Sabbath, May 27, 2017
Texts: Luke 7. The woman who anointed Jesus.
Luke 19. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him,[fn] and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”
Luke 21:1-2. And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.1 Kings 21:29.
1 Kings 21:29 Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has done this, I will not do what I promised during his lifetime.
One of the Pharisees invited him to a dinner. Jesus went and they sat down to eat. During the meal some woman from the city, someone with a colorful reputation, shall we say, came in. She brought an alabaster box of ointment. She came up behind Jesus. She began sobbing. Her tears fell on Jesus’ feet and she let down her hair and wiped his feet with her hair and massaged the ointment into his feet.
Naturally, the host saw this and he was scandalized. Surely, he thought, if Jesus were a prophet, he would realize what kind of woman this is that’s handling him.
Jesus interrupted the host’s consternation. “Simon, I have a story for you.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“A creditor was owed money by two people. One owed him five thousand dollars, the other owed him fifty. When he realized these two debtors were hopelessly over their heads in debt, he frankly forgave them both. So which of these two men would love the creditor most?”
“Well, unless it’s a trick question, the answer is obvious. The one who was forgiven most.”
“Exactly,” Jesus said.
“Now, do you see this woman? Do you really see her? Obviously, you know her name. This is a small town. You know her father’s name. You know her reputation. You know her history. But look at her again and let me tell you what you did not see.
“When I arrived here, under your roof, you provided no water for my feet, but she has washed my feet with tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, not even the most perfunctory. Since I sat down she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil. She has anointed my feet with the sweetest smelling ointment that has ever touched my skin.
Can you see now? Obviously, she has received forgiveness. You know her sins. I invite you to see the wealth of pardon she has received.
“Honey,” you may go. “Your sins are, indeed, forgiven. You are free.”
The Government Agent
Jesus was on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, traveling in the mob of pilgrims that made this trek every year for Passover. He arrived at Jericho and pushed through the gates headed for the town center. His progress was very slow because of the crowd. At some point along the route, Jesus stopped and looked up into the branches of a tree hanging over the street. There in the tree was a diminutive man named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector for the city and was quite rich.
He had been wanting to see Jesus. He had heard the reports. He was drawn to what he had heard. But getting to Jesus was problematic. So, here he was up in a tree hanging over the street waiting for the teacher to pass. And there was Jesus staring up at him.
What did Jesus see? What do we think Zacchaeus thought Jesus saw? What did the people in the crowd imagine Jesus was seeing?
Tax collector. Collaborator with the Romans. This has application in our world. People who believe government is the face of oppression. If your neighbor works for the IRS or the BLM or the city building inspectors office. What do we see? The incarnation of the enemy?
“Zacchaeus, hurry down. I’m planning to spend the day at your house.
Zacchaeus hurried down, almost giddy with excitement. My house! He’s coming to my house!
People in the crowd were not pleased. What is Jesus thinking? Didn’t Jesus see who was up in that tree? Didn’t Jesus see he was a sinner?
At dinner Zacchaeus made a little speech. “Lord, I am going to give half my wealth to the poor. If I have fraudulently assessed any one, I will pay back. In fact, I’ll pay back four times anything I have wrongfully taken.
Jesus smiled and said, Today, salvation has come to this house. You, Zacchaeus, are truly and fully a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Ahab was the worst king ever. He was married to Jezebel, the worst queen ever. Near the end of his life he committed one of his most egregious acts of barbarity. He wanted a piece of property next to the royal residence. The owner would not sell because it had been in his family for generations. So Ahab allowed his wife, Jezebel, to arrange to have the neighbor falsely accused of blasphemy and executed.
In response to this dastardly act, God directed the prophet, Elijah, to deliver a message of doom. God was finished with Ahab. His dynasty was going to come to an abrupt end.
After receiving the message from the prophet, the king made a great show of contrition. He put on sackcloth and was visibly upset and subdued for days.
So God appeared to the prophet again. “Have you seen Ahab?” God asked. “Go tell Ahab I have seen his contrition and I will delay the punishment I first announced.”
Have you seen Ahab?
Ahab was the worst king ever. This was true. It remained true. But in this moment God was paying attention to Ahab’s contrition. For this brief time Ahab was pointed the right direction and God saw it. And wrote it down.
The woman at Simon’s house had a messy reputation. She had earned the reputation. Simon was not inventing a false history when he scorned her. But Jesus saw something more. We are all more than our worst moments. We are even more than our bad habits. Somewhere even in a messy life there are aspirations to be better, to do better. Jesus saw those.
Zacchaeus worked for the Romans. The implication is that he participated in the culture of his work place. He had used his official position to defraud people. That was true. And there was something more. Jesus saw that. Jesus read his hunger for holiness. When we look at people can we see those secret hopes for goodness? Can we find ways to encourage them?
Ahab was a bad man. His dynasty needed to end. It did end, by divine order. Still, God noticed the sparks of goodness that lived even in someone as broken and messed up as Ahab. Sometimes we have to deal with bad people. Evil must be restrained. But when we take action to restrain evil can we keep alive our capacity to notice and honor even the slightest impulse toward goodness? When we do this we are partnering with God. The more frequently we practice this partnership with God, the deeper and richer will be our realization of our own place in God’s eyes.
God is watching you. He sees your best hopes, your highest aspirations. And God is pleased. With you.