Saved = Forgiven and Unashamed

Luke 7:36-50

Saved = Forgiven and Unashamed

February 25, 2018

 

          Our worship theme this Lent is “Jesus Saves.” And last week we learned that the Greek word for ‘saved’ is sōzō, but sōzō gets translated different ways depending on context: ‘saved,’ yes, but also ‘healed,’ and sometimes ‘made well.’ For the woman with the flow of blood in last week’s gospel reading, ‘saved’ meant physical healing, but it was healing and then some—it was being restored to community, being welcomed in the place of worship, being made somebody instead of nobody. Jesus saves. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” And this time saved means forgiven. And forgiveness is a great big deal—don’t get me wrong. But even so, saved is forgiveness . . . and then some. Let me tell you what I mean.

 

          Simon the Pharisee is criticizing Jesus; the Pharisees were always criticizing Jesus. This time it was for failing to recognize “who and what sort” of woman this is who has cried on his hair and kissed his feet. That’s the sort of thing Pharisees care about—Pharisees back then and Pharisees here today--who and who sort of people others are. Are they respectable enough? Are they of the right nationality and social class? Do they follow the rules? Do they make us uncomfortable in some way? That’s what Pharisees care about—who and of what sort other people are.

          But Jesus says to Simon: Do you see this woman? Did you hear that question in the gospel? Do you see this woman, Jesus asked. Well, sort of, he had. He’d seen her enough to judge her. He’d seen her enough to know Jesus shouldn’t be with her. But seen her, who she was inside, what it felt like to be her, what her human potential was? No. When he looked at her, all he saw was “a sinner.” He didn’t even know--didn’t care to know--her name. He thought he had her summed up in one word: sinner.

 

          New Testament scholar Wendy Farley points out that this woman has almost certainly been mistreated, traumatized.1 Prostitutes then, as now, didn’t simply ‘choose’ to walk the streets. They were abused, beaten, threatened, deprived of other options—trafficked, is the word we use today. And for traumatized persons, Farley says, forgiveness is not enough. If we hear in this passage only a message of forgiveness, she writes, we remain in the world of the Pharisee. Pharisees can forgive people . . . but still despise them, Pharisees can forgive people . . . but still feel superior to them, Even Pharisees can forgive people . . . but those people are still unwelcome.

          It’s not that the woman doesn’t need to be forgiven; she does. But for her—and, I suppose, for all of us—to be saved is to be forgiven . . . and then some. For this woman, to be saved has to mean being accepted, loved, respected. Here’s how Farley puts it: “Jesus is not distracted by her sin but rather perceives the beauty of her soul shining in her beautiful actions [of loving Jesus]. She does not see herself as beautiful, but he does.” Simon, Jesus asks, do you see this woman? No, Simon doesn’t want to see her. But Jesus does. Jesus saves.

 

          The healing of shame, being truly ‘saved,’ is more than forgiveness. In her shame, one writer has suggested, this woman probably thought, “Joseph is a carpenter, Ruth is a seamstress, Ben is a priest, and I am a sinner.”2 But that’s her shame talking. Sure she’s sinned; we all have. But that’s not who she is. Jesus sees so much more in her than that; Jesus sees something beautiful in her. Jesus saves. And you know, on a good day, I’m fine; I’m okay with myself. But on a bad day, on one of those days that just keep spiraling down, I say to myself: worship attendance is down, the church budget is tight, some people are mad at me. I am a failure. But that, of course, is my shame talking. Sure I have failed at this and that, but that’s not who I am. Jesus sees so much more than that; Jesus sees something beautiful in me. Jesus saves.

 

          That is a beautiful and redeeming part of this story. But it’s only part of the story. There is in the gospel story this woman Jesus whom forgives and accepts; he sees something beautiful in her. In a word, Jesus saves her. But there is someone else in the story, someone who needs saved even more than her, and someone who at the end of the story is still not saved—and that is Simon the Pharisee. At the end of the story, he still thinks he’s better than others, he needs to feel more respectable than others, he still believes he doesn’t belong in the same room or the same category of people with this woman--this woman Jesus loves and who has loved Jesus back. Simon the Pharisee believes he doesn’t need to be saved, and so, sadly, he is not.

 

          Jesus saves. Which means that he heals, yes, but healed and then some. He restores people to community, welcomes people into places of worship, un-ostracizes people. Jesus saves. Which means that Jesus forgives, yes, but forgives and then some. He sees more in us than we can see in ourselves. He sees something beautiful in the broken and downtrodden.

          And the question for us is this: will we be the church of Simon the Pharisee or the church of Jesus the Savior? Will we be the church of Simon the criticizer, the judge, the one who endlessly finds fault--or the church of Jesus who sees something beautiful in everyone? I know what kind of church I need. Jesus saves.

The Lenten Prayer

         

 

1 Wendy Farley, “Luke 7:36-50,” Between Text and Sermon, Interpretation 69/1 (January 2015), 76-77.

2 Gerrit Scott Dawson, Heartfelt: Finding Our Way Back to God (Upper Room Press, 1993), 79.

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