Broken humanity spends a lot of time and energy trying to cover up their scandal, sin, and shame. But when Jesus comes into our lives we are exposed as imperfect creatures. Exposed as we are, Jesus loves us anyways and clothes us in his robe of righteousness.
Vicar Neal Cannon; Time after Pentecost, Sunday 11, year C; texts: 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:10, 13-15; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36 – 8:3
Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Have you ever had that dream where you’re about to do a presentation, or a speech, or a sermon, or you’re in the middle of a crowded hallway and all of a sudden you realize that everyone is looking at you? “What could they be looking at?” you wonder. Is my hair messy? Do I have something stuck in my teeth? Is my makeup on funny? You start feeling really anxious because people are pointing and laughing at you. And then all of a sudden you look down and you realize you’re naked! If you’re a preacher you think, “Thank God for pulpits!” The rest of you might not be so lucky.
Dreams can often be complicated things but it doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to diagnose what is happening here. No, we regular arm-chair psychologists and Google experts can pretty easily identify that this type of dream is about more than our fear of being naked. These dreams are about our fear of being exposed. They are about our deep and inner fear that people will see us fully as we are and we’re scared to death of that. After all, nakedness symbolizes scandal. Nakedness symbolizes sin. Nakedness symbolizes all the things that we feel ashamed about and if people see us as being naked, how could they love us? How could God love us? We barely love ourselves.
This is an age old fear, Adam and Eve old. Adam and Eve’s first instinct after eating from the forbidden tree was to be ashamed of their nakedness and cover it up with leaves and hide from God in a dark place. It seems like ever since then we’ve been ashamed of our nakedness to the point where we subconsciously fear and dream about our sins, faults, and failures being exposed. We love the light, but the last thing we want is for the light to expose our sins leaving us vulnerable to public ridicule and judgment.
In our Gospel lesson today, there is a woman who is a known sinner. We are not told what her sin is, but apparently this is a publicly known sin. This woman’s sin is exposed. It’s out in the open for everyone to see like a reality TV star. We’re not sure if she is a servant or if she is supposed to be at the Pharisee’s house in any way, but when Jesus arrives at the party and sits at the table, this sinful woman approaches Jesus with an alabaster jar of ointment.
Now at the time it was customary to wash your guest’s feet, but quite frankly what happens next is a little bit obscene. She begins to weep and wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and dry his feet with her hair. Imagine if this happened in one of our homes. We might be a little embarrassed by what was going on or at the very least, feel very uncomfortable because this is a really strange public display of affection (we’re not too into PDA). This “sinful” woman is intimately close to Jesus, weeping and carrying on. This is above and beyond regular hospitality. This seems more like love. One might wonder, “Did she ever hear Jesus speak? Did she ever speak to Jesus directly?”
Simon, overlooking this spectacle, concludes that Jesus must not know her because if Jesus really knew her he wouldn’t associate with her. He thinks, “What is this guy doing? If he was really a prophet he would know that this woman is a sinner.” And by doing this, Simon distances himself from the woman and from Jesus. After all, Simon expects that Jesus would associate with him, a Pharisee, but doubts that a true man of God would associate with a known sinner. In other words, Simon creates two categories of people; a category for sinners, and a category for religious people like himself.
Categorizing people and distancing ourselves from “them” is something this culture does frequently. We experience this phenomenon through reality TV. Shows like Jersey Shore, Toddlers and Tiaras, Hoarders, and Bridezillas, are or have been popular shows based on the premise of exposing the inner mess of people’s everyday lives. These shows are designed to make us judge this bizarre human behavior, and like watching a train wreck as its happening, we can’t take our eyes away.
Reality TV can be addictive because watching people act in obscene ways makes us feel a little bit better about ourselves and our lives. Reality TV can be a way to cover up or lesson our own scandals, our own sense of sin and shame and say, “Well at least I don’t do that.”
And if you don’t relate to this particular example because you don’t watch reality TV, keep in mind that this is the exact same thing we do when we gossip about others, or mock/make fun of/or lessen other people for any reason. When we do these things what we’re doing is pointing out other people’s sin and thereby distracting or covering up our own.
Unfortunately, this is often a religious problem too. The problem almost all religions have is that religious piety can be a tool to expose other people’s sin while at the same time acting as a cloak to hide under. Religious self-righteousness can be the garment we wear to hide our nakedness, to tell ourselves we are not sinful and that we have nothing to hide. The scary thing is that if we do this long enough, we can actually come to believe that we are without sin.
And this is exactly what happens to both David and Simon in our stories today. Out of a sense of their own self-righteousness, David from being a king and Simon from being a Pharisee, they thought they were above others; above and thus not subject to the law. And acting as men above and beyond the law, David and Simon spend a lot of time and energy trying to expose others while covering up their own sin. Simon wants to expose this woman as a sinner and he wants to expose Jesus as a fraud. David wants to expose the man in Nathan’s story. Both cover themselves in self-righteousness while doing so.
So, Jesus tells Simon a parable. Two people owe a creditor. One owes a lot, and one owes a little, but the creditor forgives the debt of both these people. Which person loves the creditor more? Simon knows the right answer (David probably would too): the one who owed more is the one who will love the creditor more. That’s the obvious answer. But I wonder if Simon picks up on the subtle part of this story. Namely that Jesus’ question is not about debt. Jesus’ question is about love.
Jesus’ isn’t preoccupied with who owes the creditor more money and he doesn’t create a scale of holiness based on the debts of each person. He doesn’t categorize the debt. Instead, Jesus essentially says that before God, before our Creditor, all our debts are wiped out. Jesus question then isn’t about our debts; it’s about our relationship with our creator. Jesus’ question asks us how we respond to a God who doesn’t keep track of debt.
After all it was the “sinful” woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, she’s the one who extends her love and gratitude and hospitality to Jesus, and she’s the one who recognizes the extravagant and free gift that she has been given, not Simon. Simon seems to think that his sins are somehow less than this woman’s sin and because he doesn’t think he’s been forgiven much, his sin of not loving much is exposed. David can’t get off the hook either. After committing adultery and murder God sends David a prophet with a parable that exposes everything that David has done.
One of the Apostle Paul’s greatest realizations is that we all sin and that all fall short of the glory of God. We can’t cover up our sins with religion. Piety does not actually make us more holy. We cannot judge our sins in comparison with others. Paul writes, “And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.” Put another way, being religious doesn’t justify us, it actually exposes us. It doesn’t cover up our sins, it unveils them. Before the Triune God, we are exposed and our sin cannot be hidden. And this is one of the oldest and deepest human fears, as old as Adam and Eve, to be naked and exposed before God and the world. When we feel naked we try to hide because we are afraid that if God sees us as naked people, then we won’t have a relationship with God.
Ironically, hiding is precisely the reason we don’t have a relationship with God. By hiding we take ourselves away from God and don’t trust that God loves us. We fear being exposed because we fear God’s judgment so we withdraw from God. In response, God, like a shepherd seeking out the lost sheep, sends his only Son into the world and the judgment that the Son proclaims is found on the cross.
It’s on the cross that we realize that our scandal is forgotten, our shame taken away, and our sins forgiven. On the cross God’s judgment is love and it’s on the cross that we no longer have to fear our nakedness because Jesus clothes us in garments of righteousness. Isaiah says it best,
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.
When Jesus sees us naked, exposed, ashamed, Jesus gives us his robe and says, “You’re debts are forgiven. There’s no reason to hide.” This is good news for us all that causes us to respond with faith, hope, and love to the point of weeping because we were afraid of our nakedness and Jesus clothed us in righteousness.
When Jesus comes into our lives he sees us as we are. We can’t cover it up, we can’t deflect attention elsewhere. Jesus sees us as we are and says “you are forgiven.” And in this we remember our right relationship to God. A relationship based on love.
Thanks be to God.