I am not much up on social etiquette . . . my wife reminds me of that fact all of the time. For example, if so-and-so invites us to dinner at their house, then we . . . in return, are obligated to invite them to our house for a dinner. If they bring a bottle of wine for the meal, we are obligated to bring them a bottle when we go to their house. It is a sort of tit-for-tat sort of game, this social etiquette that is being played. The way that my wife explains it is that we are to reciprocate for acts of kindness that others show us. I never realized that there was a price on the invitation whether it is intentional or unintentional. I guess that it is true, there is really nothing in life that is free . . . everything comes with a price.
Everything . . . comes with a price.
Jesus is invited to a dinner at the house of a Pharisee . . . a fancy, smancy sort of a deal . . . all the local bigwigs are at the dinner. Into the dinner bursts a lady of ill-repute . . . a supposed prostitute . . . who goes to Jesus, crying on his feet, wiping the tears off with her hair, and then anointing his feet with expensive perfume . . . and, all the while she is kissing his feet. This infuriates the host . . . infuriates the guests . . . they accuse Jesus of being ignorant of who the woman was . . . surely, if Jesus knew, he would never allow this woman to contaminate their dinner. So they confront Jesus . . . they question him . . . they question his motives . . . they question his lofty status. More or less, they tell Jesus that the woman is a sinner, and how in the world could he allow her to do such things!
Well, I can honestly say that I have never had any person, let alone a woman, weep on my feet and anoint them with expensive perfume. I have had a few women step on my feet, but never do anything like the writer of Luke shares this morning. Yet, at the same time, I can see the gracious act of hospitality this woman shares with Jesus . . . she welcomes him by doing what is required by the host . . . she cleanses his feet after a long journey. It is an act of the deepest hospitality . . . which is something that the host did not do. No, it is an outsider . . . a sinner . . . who provides the hospitality.
Jesus confronts the Pharisee . . . Jesus confronts him by first, telling a story. It is a story about two men who owe a lot of money . . . one owes 500 bucks, the other 50 . . . the man to whom they owe the money forgives them both. Jesus poses the question, “Now which of them will love him more?” Well, the logical answer is, the one who owed more. And, Jesus told the Pharisee that he is right . . . it is the one who owed more.
Then Jesus gets to his point . . . he shares how the woman displayed hospitality . . . how she washed his feet with tears . . . how she kissed him . . . how she anointed him with expensive oils . . . and, not once did the Pharisee, the host, offer him any of the common symbols of hospitality. Therefore, Jesus declares that the woman’s sins are forgiven. He proclaims: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she has loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” In other words, Jesus is telling the Pharisee that he blew it.
The Pharisee blew it by not being hospitable. The Pharisee blew it by not understanding the game of reciprocity . . . tit-for-tat. The Pharisee blew it by not knowing that grace was in operation, and he was not the one receiving it—the outsider, the sinner, was the one who received the grace. It was not a matter of reciprocity on the part of Jesus, but something that went beyond . . . it was grace.
We are talking about grace. This is not mere reciprocity that we are talking about . . . this is not a dinner for a dinner . . . not a bottle of wine for a bottle of wine . . . this is pure grace. Grace goes beyond the reciprocal. Jesus demonstrates this in this story. For the act of hospitality, Jesus grants grace . . . the woman’s sins are forgiven.
My career in the scouting program did not last long . . . I made it to the Webelo level before I dropped out, but one of the things that I appreciated about the scouting program had to do with their motto of leaving a place better than they found it. For example, if one went camping, he was responsible for not leaving the camping site as he found it, but to leave it better than he found it. It was to go beyond reciprocity . . . it was to practice grace.
Grace seems to be a difficult word for us to understand. Difficult for us to understand because we are used to this idea of reciprocity . . . an equal gift for an equal gift. Grace . . . well, grace goes beyond this idea of a tit-for-tat. It goes beyond the reciprocal . . .
Jesus practiced grace. Jesus went beyond the expected. He forgave the woman her sins. This shocked those who were gathered there for the dinner. It made the guests question his motives . . . question who he thought he was, forgiving sins.
Grace has a funny way of confronting us . . . it is unexpected . . . and, it is a whole lot more than any of expect because it goes beyond giving a bottle of wine for a bottle of wine. We are not ready for someone giving us more than we expect. Yet, that is exactly what happens when we come into a relationship with God through the example of Jesus . . . we get a whole lot more than we bargained for.
As I stated earlier, I am not the most current when it comes to this idea of social etiquette . . . this practice of reciprocity . . . this idea of you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. I’m pretty bad at it because I figure a gift is a gift, not the down payment for a game of ping pong gifting. So, this idea of going beyond the reciprocal . . . well, let’s just say that I am still working on it. We all are.
The woman who barged into the private dinner was not seeking anything . . . she came to welcome a great teacher and prophet . . . she did not expect a whole heck of a lot in return for what she had done. Just being in the presence of Jesus was enough . . . she did what was right. In return, she received more than she ever expected . . . she received grace . . . she was welcomed into the family of God. I don’t know if I am there yet, and I am not sure any of us is quite there either. And, that is the challenge.
The challenge to go beyond the reciprocal . . . to go beyond the expected . . . to show grace. Though we want to identify with Jesus . . . to be like Jesus . . . I think we are more like the Pharisee in this story. It is not enough to invite Jesus to the dinner, we have to go beyond the expected . . . we have to step into grace . . . to go beyond the reciprocal. This is not easy because we do not always receive God’s grace well . . . and, we do not practice it well.
It comes down to faith . . . it was faith that saved the woman because, when you read the story and realize, she went beyond the expected. So it is with each of us . . . we are to practice grace . . . discover its power . . . and, to realize that it is a gift from God. Grace . . . going beyond the expected. We need it now. Amen.