Keep those stories coming in! Today’s picture is of a different kind of activity, as someone has very kindly cleared the Memorial Garden of leaves which had fallen after the high winds last week. There wasn’t a picture of the oat biscuits the same person has made equally kindly for Whitebourne, but they sound delicious. Thanks to everyone whose lockdown activity is generously directed towards the well-being of others. Not very photogenic, but we’ve done a bit more ‘sorting out’ here, so before I finally call closure on our bins for tomorrow, let’s sit down, relax with a drink and light the candle which symbolises our openness to Jesus, the Light for the World.
Simon, one of the strict set, had invited Jesus to his home for a meal. As Jesus reclined on a couch where the food was being served, a local woman with a poor reputation, who had found out he was there, came in with a precious jar of scented ointment and stood by him. As she cried, she used her tears to wash Jesus’ feet, then wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and massaged them with the oil. Simon was quite shocked as he watched this. He thought to himself, “If this chap really is a prophet, he’d know what sort of a woman she is and how she lives, making advances to him like that!” Jesus turned to him. “Simon, I have something to say to you” “Go ahead, Teacher,” he replied. “Two people once borrowed money from a moneylender. One owed five thousand pounds, the other fifty. But neither could repay their debt, so the moneylender let them both off. Which of them do you reckon would appreciate his gesture more?” “The one who owed the greater amount, I guess,” answered Simon. “Quite so,” said Jesus. (Luke 7:39-50)
I checked my Facebook page this morning. There’s not a lot on it as I rarely if ever upload pictures (not sure I really know how to!) but I do like pictures that my friends upload and I’m assiduous about wishing everyone a happy birthday (so long as I’m reminded!) I was a bit disconcerted when I checked just now to realise I had 226 friends – all of whom I know reasonably well. If you’re one of them, thank you for being patient with me not responding too quickly! Although I’m comfortable with the technology at a basic level, I’m aware of younger friends who live with it, older friends who feel left behind, and those who can’t afford internet access.
Living in lockdown is way outside any of our experience. Most of us relate to a variety kind of communities – family, workplace, school, neighbourhood – and in moving between them we learn to adapt, make allowances and keep a balance between them all. Social media offer many blessings and enable us to maintain relationships face to face, but our current reliance on them means that without normal subconscious non-verbal interaction, it’s easy to create unintended misunderstanding and upset.
The authorities in Jesus’ day increasingly took offence at him. He showed total disregard for ‘the rulebook’, he showed up hypocrisy and exploitation of the poor - and he talked about forgiveness. Here once again Jesus flouts social convention and reaches out to a woman disapproved by others. Her reputation as a loose woman marked her out as one to steer clear of. Although not an invited guest, she’s heard about Jesus’ visit and walks in on the party. Can you hear the guests tut-tutting with Simon as she makes a beeline for Jesus and stands by him. Already emotional (“a bit unstable,” did someone say?) she proceeds to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her scandalously untied hair, and finally empties an expensive jar of ointment over them. You can hear the ‘shock, horror’ reaction! So Jesus takes Simon aside and tells a simple parable about two people in debt. Both have been let off, but there’s a huge gap between the amounts they owe. He poses one simple question – which of the two would be more grateful? Simon comes up with the obvious answer.
Our capacity to forgive others relates directly to the extent to which we’ve been forgiven. Simon, in some ways sympathetic to Jesus, is stuck in his holier-than-thou mindset, looking down on this woman’s inappropriate behaviour. She doesn’t fit in or show much awareness of others’ disapproval. Yet far from dismissing her, Jesus welcomes and accepts her loving response without criticism or judgment.
Leaving aside personal safety, most of us identify those whose behaviour or demeanour feels out of place, even threatening. Seen on TV, we probably shout at them and distance ourselves mentally. But if our Christian community is to live in the light of Jesus’ teaching, who should we be welcoming among us? Do you remember the church with the ‘shush-free’ service? Take a moment or two now to think of those who don’t necessarily conform socially to our expectations but may be seeking God’s love and peace to meet their needs.
Prayer for today
Lord Jesus, when we prefer to
stay risk-free and comfortable,
disturb our complacency;
when we shy away from those who are different or demanding,
challenge out values;
when we meet anyone in need of your love and grace,
help us to see beneath the surface
to the person you will reach out to and touch through us. Amen
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