Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thursday in Passion Week

Daniel 3:25, 34-45 / Luke 7:36-50

When we invite people into our lives, whether for a brief event like a dinner party or for a longer commitment, perhaps a business venture or even a hoped for friendship, we keep an eye out for offense. To sit someone at our dinner table when we know his presence may well prove unpleasant for us our for our guests, to join in commercial matters with someone who, by his demeanor and behavior drives clients away, to knowingly pursue friendship with someone who exposes us to ridicule by those whose approval we value — such choices to not normally characterize the man of prudence. We may not want to believe that potential offense need be the principal thought in our minds. All the same, we would seem foolish, even thoughtless, in failing to attend to it.

How troubling, then, that Jesus should prove such an inevitable scandal. When the Pharisee invited Jesus to his house, indeed desired Jesus to eat with him, he must have hoped that the Galilean's occasional public offenses would not darken his door. Or, perhaps he had hoped to see what kind of man Jesus was, still sitting on the fence, and looking for evidence whether this man of whom much had been told was indeed a prophet. True to form, but not to the Pharisee's hopes for a polite dinner with his friends and associates, Jesus was scandalous, and allowed a woman that was in the city, a sinner, to wash His feet with tears, and wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kiss His feet, and anoint them with the ointment she brought in an alabaster box. Perhaps to his disappointment in Jesus, but surely also with anxiety about appearances of a supposed holy man allowing such brazen ministrations by a woman of ill repute, the Pharisee was inclined to change his mind: This man, if He were a prophet, would know surely who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth Him: that she is a sinner.

As concerned as we can be, even rightly concerned, about offense and scandal, when we have our wits about us, we also know that there are times when such worries must be cast aside. When there is a good we pursue, a good we know we must have for any hope of happiness, then it is not only possible, it is necessary that we endure even the most shameful humiliation to get it. The man who has fallen in love with the woman he knows he must marry cannot be excused, morally or otherwise, should he fail to proclaim her publicly as his beloved, even over the known objections of his family and friends. The woman who has fallen on hard times as needs to feed her family not only can but must endure whatever shame she feels in seeking out help from neighbor, Church, and State to feed herself and those in her care.

This is the truth known by the woman in the Gospel. She surely was aware of her reputation, and indeed was likely aware that it was deserved. Likewise she knew that to arrive at the house of the Pharisee, to act in such a public way in loving and tender care and devotion for Jesus, would invite the scorn of all around her. So also Hananiah in his prayer for the people of Israel. He knew that Israel had been diminished more than any nation, and ... brought low in all the earth for its sins. He was also fully aware that, because of its humiliation, Israel had deprived itself of all of the means God had provided to call upon his mercy: Neither is there at this time prince, or leader, or prophet, or holocaust, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, or place of first-fruits before Thee, that we may find Thy mercy. Hananiah, like the woman in the Gospel, knows that it is only in a contrite heart and humble spirit that he can come before God. Israel, like the woman of ill repute, must cast aside all pretense, must parade itself before all in a reckless act of devotion, going to the sole hope for happiness there ever had been, to the Lord God, to our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is no convenient time to turn back to the Lord. There is no best, respectable way to call upon the Spirit as our Advocate to plead and pray when our own words fail us and we do not know what to say. There is no conformity to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ that does not involve our being crushed, contritus, humiliated, and raised up for all the world to see. This is the emptiness, the shame, which we embrace in our seeking to be made more like Christ. To do so while wanting to have a name in the world is to remain forever outside knowing the forgiving love of Christ: Who is this that forgiveth sins also? To stand in full view, to be brazen in our shameful love for the shameful Christ, this is what it means to have loved much, what it means to find the joy we seek: Thy faith has saved thee: go in peace.

Be gracious to Thy people, we beseech Thee, O Lord: that they may reject whatever displeaseth Thee and rather be filled with the delights of Thy commandments.

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