Relating to the Real World

Luke 7:28-50

Jesus was kissed by a sinful woman in a room full of Pharisees. It could have gone down as anyone’s most embarrassing moment. A Pharisee called Simon had invited him to a dinner. The other guests were likely to have been men of the Pharisee community. They were probably there to see Jesus up close to give him a yes or no vote. This was a lion’s den. That’s when it happened.
We don’t know how this notorious woman got in; perhaps she knew a servant and asked if she could take something to Jesus. What we do know is that she wanted forgiveness and somehow knew Jesus was the person to go to.
Poor dear, she did everything wrong; at least as far as the Pharisees were concerned. She gate-crashed a religious dinner and then gets physical with the guest of honour! Well how else do we describe it? I mean, she kissed his feet and wiped them with her hair! And every rabbi present saw it. Fortunately Jesus saw more, he saw her heart. 
Do you know people who always get it all wrong, but have a good heart? I do. It’s a good thing she approached Jesus and not Simon. But she was already wise to that; if she or her friends had sin the last person they would tell was a Pharisee! Actually that’s why Luke places this story straight after his comparison of Jesus and John the Baptist with the Pharisees. Luke had explained how the people accepted Jesus and John but the Pharisees did not. He wanted to highlight the fact that there was an enormous gulf between the Pharisees and the ordinary people and the story of the woman at Simon’s dinner did this nicely.
In the verses leading up to the story Jesus says that the Pharisees are like children in the market place calling out, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance.’ He was basically saying ‘You Pharisees want us to dance to your religious tune; your rules and traditions, but we won’t.’ He said, ‘Wisdom is proved right by ALL her children,’ and the ordinary people were following Jesus and John; not the Pharisees. They had voted with their feet.
The people could not relate to the Pharisees. Their legalism was stifling; it left little place for those who needed mercy. But in Jesus the people saw a leader they could approach; someone who understood sin and was from a simple home in an unfavoured part of Galilee.
We Evangelicals (and Pentecostals) can learn a lot from this story. Many of us make the same mistake that Simon the Pharisee made. We live in religious legalistic bubbles that are hard for ‘sinners’ to break into. We want people to behave before they can join our community. They mustn’t smoke, drink, have dreadlocks, use bad language, accept evolution, or listen to secular music. When someone lights up a cigarette after the church service we look at them as if they were dirt. When we see a member of the church having a beer at the pub down the road, we assume they have lost their salvation. And if hear someone is divorced we relegate them to the level of a second rate believer. In other words, we react like Simon when the sinful woman walked in. We do this because we require a certain level of conformity before we will allow people to belong. But if Jesus were here he would react different. He would look past the smoke, drink and divorce and see the person’s heart. Did you know that most smokers and drinkers have good hearts? Did you know that there are evolutionary biologists that love Jesus but fear telling the church about their work? You see, we have our own modern Evangelical tune and we want everyone to dance to it. But you know what? Jesus didn’t dance to the tune of the Pharisees, and he doesn’t dance to our modern Evangelical one either. The truth is that Jesus would not be allowed to preach in many of our Evangelical (and Pentecostal) churches today because we would not accept a speaker who had a few glasses of wine (or other fermented drink Luke 7:33-34, 1:15) the night before, or someone who had those drinks with some unsavoury characters like conman Zaccheus or suspect Magdalene at a local pub, and well, would our church accept a preacher with hair that long anyway? And if this is the situation; if Jesus couldn’t preach in many of our churches, something is wrong! We are just like Simon.
Can these people enter your church without getting a stare? Do they have to conform to a certain code of dress or belief first? The Pharisees had created a religious subculture that was not accessible, but Jesus removed the barriers and ushered the tax-collectors and prostitutes into the Fathers kingdom. He allowed people to belong before they behaved.
As we step back we see there was something superficial about Simon and his community, and something very real about Jesus and this ‘sinful’ woman. I don’t know about you, but I would rather be associated with this woman than with Simon. At least she was genuine; at least she was in touch with the ordinary people. If you are a real believer, insist that you church community remains relevant and in touch with the real world. Here in Mombasa we are hoping to get this right, see our church slogan.

Other Illustrations used:  A broken hearted man bound by sin | Madeiras: Muslims who follow Jesus | The bounded and centred set | Our church slogan ‘Real God Real People’

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