The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

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by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

One of my mother’s favorite stories to tell about me was about a time when I was still her baby – the youngest of her then three children.  I was about three, just old enough to form sentences.  The three of us were sick, probably with the flu.  She took us to the family doctor.  He looked us over and then turned his back and fiddled with something.  When he turned around he had a big needle in his hand.  According to Mama, I jumped off the table and ran to the door, trying to get it open while pointing at my siblings and shouting in the general direction of the doctor, “Just them two’s sick.  Just them two’s sick. Not me, not me!”

In our Gospel Lesson – Jesus is invited to eat with Simon, the Pharisee, who was not only intrigued and curious about this self-taught country preacher and faith healer, but also skeptical and dismissive.

It wasn’t long until everyone in town knew that Jesus was eating at Simon’s house. Soon, a crowd had gathered. People were intrigued and curious; they wanted to see Jesus; they wanted to hear him say something unusual, they hoped he might perform a miracle.

A woman; a “sinner” slipped through the crowd to Jesus. She came to where he reclined at table, she stretched herself out at his feet, she covered his feet with oil, she bathed them with her tears, she dried them with her hair. And, of course, all this sensuality, all this sexiness, all this touching was too much for Simon, who would never touch any woman but his wife, much less a woman like this, a sinner, a woman of ill-repute. “How could you?” Simon mumbled under his breathe. “How could you, allow this, this, this, woman to touch you? And all this bathing, and oiling, and wiping, and kissing.  It’s disgusting!  Some prophet you are!  A true prophet would have known what kind of woman she is and certainly would not have let her touch him.”

Some people who find it somewhat miraculous that Jesus is said to know what Simon is thinking at this point. Seriously? If looks could kill, the one Simon gave Jesus would have wiped out a neighborhood. No need to be a prophet to guess what was going on in Simon’s head – and heart; it was written all over his face. Jesus must have sighed and shook his head a bit as he began to tell Simon on of his little stories.

Two people owe money a man some money. One of them owes ten times as much as the other. Neither could pay. The man forgives the debt of both. “Which of them will love him more?” Jesus says.  Who will have more gratitude and more devotion?”  Of course Simon answers, “The one for whom he cancelled the bigger debt.”

Then Jesus lays it out to Simon how the woman had simply done for Jesus what Simon, as the host, should have done. She was not a good woman and she knew it. She knew she needed a lot of love and forgiveness. Unlike Simon, she had no lifetime of doing the right thing to cling to, she knew she was in trouble and needed help.

When she heard Jesus tell of repentance and acceptance into the Kingdom of God, when she heard his stories of love and forgiveness, when she saw him touch the untouchable and love the unlovely; it struck a chord deep within her soul. She really heard his words, not as ideas but as truth; not as religious concepts but as spiritual realities. She really heard it and believed it and knew herself to be loved and forgiven by God. Only one who knew that she had been forgiven much could respond with such great gratitude and love.

“Not me, Jesus. What you’re saying doesn’t apply to me. I’m not sick. I’m not a sinner. I don’t have hurt and pain and incompleteness. I’m a good person. What you’re saying applies to other people, not to me.”  That’s what Simon thought.

Until Nathan pointed the finger at him, and shouted out “Thou art the man,” that’s what King David thought. “Not me Lord. Only them people are sick. Not me. Go forgive, and heal, and love on someone else and leave me alone.”

Traditionally Calvinists have believed in something called “total depravity.” It’s a theological way of saying what St. Paul was getting at when he wrote, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” It doesn’t mean we’re all rotten through and through. It does mean we’re all rotten at least a little bit.

Dallas Willard was a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California for almost 40 years. He was also a very active Christian, a member of a Baptist Church. When he died in 2013, his minister friend John Ortberg wrote an obituary, which said in part:

Somebody once asked Dallas if he believed in total depravity. “I believe in sufficient depravity,” he responded immediately.  What’s that? “I believe every human being is sufficiently depraved that when we get to heaven, no one will be able to say, “I merited this.”

(Christianity Today, June 2016, p. 79)

We have not merited God’s grace, we have not earned it, we did nothing to deserve it.  It is God’s free gift to all of us. Our capacity to forgive others begins to grow when we realize that we are all a bit depraved, when we recognize how very much we have been forgiven by God. And our capacity to love others fully and unselfishly grows by leaps and bounds when we realize how very much we have been loved fully and unselfishly by God.

Amen and amen.

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