Sermon: The World’s Worst Dinner Party

According to Robert Karris, “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.” It seems that Jesus, like the people of Stout, doesn’t do anything without food. He enjoyed eating and drinking with people so much that he was called ‘a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’ as it says in our passage for this morning. But Karris also notes that “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus got himself killed because of the way he ate.” How Jesus ate and who he ate with was part of how he lived out his mission. In doing so, he stirred up controversy and criticism, eventually even anger and resistance.

This Lent, we will be joining Jesus around the table. We will explore the meals Jesus ate, what he did, what he taught, and who he is around the table in order to better tune our hearts to love God and our neighbor as disciples of Jesus.

This morning, we find ourselves in Luke chapter 7. Luke 7, beginning in verse 31. If you have a Bible with you this morning, please turn there with me. If you do not have a Bible, you are invited to grab one from the pew in front of you and leave it open as we read and study God’s word together. Luke is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Luke 7, beginning in verse 31. Before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me:

Father, may your word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher,  and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand as we hear God’s word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:

31Jesus went on to say,

“To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation?

32They are like children sitting in the marketplace

and calling out to each other,

‘We played the pipes for you and you did not dance,

we play a dirge and you did not cry.’

33For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine,

and you say, ‘He has a demon.’

34The Son of Man came eating and drinking,

and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

35But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

36When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him,

Jesus went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.

37A woman in that town who lived a sinful life

learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house,

so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.

38As she stood behind him at his feet weeping,

she began to wet his feet with her tears.

Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this,

he said to himself,

“If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him

and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”

40Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, Teacher,” he said.

41“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender.

One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty.

42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both.

Now which of them will love him more?”

43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon,

“Do you see this woman?

I came into your house.

You did not give me any water for my feet,

but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.

45You did not give me a kiss,

but she, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.

46You did not put oil on my head,

but she has poured perfume on my feet.

47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins are forgiven –

as her great love has shown.

But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49The other guests began to say among themselves,

“Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God (you may be seated)

There comes a point in almost every dating relationship where you have to meet the parents. You sit down for a dinner that is not just a dinner – its a test. Are you good enough to be dating my child? Some of us have been on the receiving end of this dinner. Full of nerves – will they like me? What if they don’t? Do I have enough deodorant on? Some of you have been on the other end of the table and watched us squirm. The challenge of this meal – the reason we don’t just say “I want you to come over for dinner” but “I want you to come over and meet my parents” is that it is not just a meal. It is a test. It is a test of character, of compatibility, of belonging. The meal is stressful because, let’s be honest, all of you parents know you have a list. The list of qualities you want in someone dating your son or daughter. Maybe it is three pages single-spaced, size-ten font. Maybe it can fit on a sticky note. Maybe you’ve never written it down or said it out loud, but you have a list.

And the meet the parents meal is a big deal, because it is not just a meal. It is a test. A test of whether you fit, whether you measure up.

Our bible passage this morning is the story of a meal that was more than a meal – it was a test. Now, Jesus isn’t ‘meeting the parents’ or anything like that. One of the Pharisees has invited Jesus over for dinner. Think Elder meets Biblical Scholar meets community leader. Jesus accepts the invitation and comes over. Only we quickly realize that this meal was not really about food and company, it was to see whether Jesus measured up.

Verse 36 tells us 36When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, Jesus went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. What is shock is what is not there. Jesus reveals to us at the end of this story that Simon the Pharisee did not offer Jesus water to wash his feet – a basic form of hospitality in that time period. Also, Simon did not greet Jesus with a kiss – another essential element of hospitality toward a guest. In fact, a ‘holy kiss’ is mentioned multiple times in the New Testament and was practiced by the early church as they passed the peace. Within the church, it was to be a sign of affection and love between brothers and sisters. But it was also the expected greeting for a guest who enters your home. But Simon did not offer that to Jesus. And we learn that Simon did not put oil on Jesus’ head, which would have been another expected act of hospitality. Oil was often used as soap in that time and offer oil would have let Jesus clean and freshen up before the meal.

All of this does not happen, Jesus reveals to us. It would be like inviting someone to dinner but not coming to the door when they get there, not offering to take their coats or give them something to drink. At best, it is just rude. At worst, it shows a level of hostility toward your guest.

Jesus was coming to a meal that was more than a meal – it was a test. A test of whether Jesus measured up. We get another indication that this was a test in Simon’s response after he sees Jesus’ encounter with the woman. Verse 39: 39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”

‘If this man was a prophet,’ Simon says. If. He is not sure. In fact, it appears that the point of this meal may have been to test whether Jesus was who he claimed to be. Right before this story, Jesus has been eating with sinners, healing the sick, and forgiving sins. So Simon and his guests want to check out Jesus. They want to test whether he measures up to what they believe a man of God should be.

A dinner which, with the rude inhospitality of Simon and his ulterior motives, was already awkward enough, takes an even more difficult turn. There is a woman there. Luke reveals in verse 37 that she lived in that town and lived a sinful life. We do not know what she had done, but it was known in the town. In verse 39, Simon claims to know who she is and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner. In verse 45, Jesus reveals to us that she was there from the time he entered.

This woman has likely heard the message of Jesus before, at the very least heard the rumors that Jesus was ‘a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ She learns that Jesus is in town and dining at the house of Simon the Pharisee, so she comes with a jar of perfume, hoping to anoint Jesus in love and gratitude for welcoming sinners like her.

But when she gets there, Jesus is being snubbed by Simon. No water, no kiss, no oil. Jesus who loves and forgives is being treated so poorly and put through the ringer. Jesus is reclining at the table, so all she has access to is his feet. All she has is an alabaster jar of perfume. She begins to weep. Maybe she is weeping in sorrow over her sins. Maybe she sheds tears of gratitude for the love and forgiveness of Jesus. Maybe her eyes sting and tears begin to fall in outrage that such a person as Jesus would be treated this way. We are not told, but as she weeps, her tears fall upon Jesus’ feet and then this woman does what Simon refused to do. She washes his feet. She has no towel, so she scandalizes herself by letting down her hair in the presence of men who are not her husband in order to dry Jesus’ feet with her hair. Then, while Simon refused to kiss Jesus in greeting, this woman kisses his feet. While Simon refused to offer oil, this woman pours perfume on his feet. And Jesus calmly accepts all of this.

Simon is not thrilled. Verse 39: 39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.” If this dinner was a test, Simon thinks this question should have been a slam dunk, but Jesus is failing. Jesus is supposed to be embarrassed that this unclean, sinful woman touched him. Jesus is supposed to push her away. If he truly was from God, he would know her character without having to be told and would protect himself, his holiness, his reputation and send the woman away. Jesus fails to fit into Simon’s vision of a prophet.

But this dinner is not truly a test for Jesus, it is a test for Simon. Simon wants to focus on the woman’s sin, on her past, on her deficiency, but Jesus has something else in mind.

40Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, Teacher,” he said.

41“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender.

One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty.

42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both.

Now which of them will love him more?”

Jesus tells a parable that, in four lines, turns the entire dinner party on its head.

Two people owed money to a certain moneylender – anytime a parable spoke about debts, all those listen knew it was talking about sins. It is even in the way Jesus taught us to pray – forgive us our debts and we forgive our debtors. And if sins are debts, then who do we owe, but God. So Jesus paints a picture of two people have sinned before God. One owe 500 hundred denarii – a lot, about a year and a half’s salary – and the other owed 50 denarii – still quite a bit, about a month and a half’s salary. One had sinned a lot and one quite a bit less. Simon has to be thinking of himself and the woman. She owes a lot more – she is the person with the 500 denarii debt. Simon has the small debt.

But Jesus tells us that neither of them can pay back the debt. They cannot come up with the money, but the moneylender (God) forgives them both. Then Jesus asks the question that cuts to the heart: Now which of them will love him more?

Simon and the woman have both sinned. Both have debts that cannot pay. Both receive forgiveness from a gracious God. Jesus wants to know – how will you respond to forgiveness?

Jesus then compares Simon and the woman – her love and hospitality and Simon’s lack of it. Now which of them will love him more? The woman, out of love and gratitude for the great forgiveness of Jesus, pours herself out in love. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins are forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

She knows what has been done for her. She knows the burden she bore. She knows what it is like to be buried under her past decisions and when she is freed, when she is forgiven, when she sees the grace of Jesus who eats with tax collectors and sinners, she bursts forth in love. Her love is evidence of the forgiveness that has come upon her.

There is a gentleness and a boldness to this parable of Jesus. In the parable, Jesus reminds Simon that he, too, is a sinner. He owes a debt to God he cannot pay back. While Simon and the woman are different in many ways, they are also the same in that both owe and neither can pay. And they share in the grace that the creditor freely forgives them both.

In this meal, Jesus, in a subtle way, is making a profound claim about himself. Jesus claims that God forgives sin and then Jesus himself declares the woman forgiven. Jesus does what only God can do and in essence says to Simon, ‘you invited me here to test whether I was a prophet, but I tell you I am more than a prophet, I am God himself come to forgive and to save. This woman loved me rightly because she knew who I am, but you have treated me poorly because you do not know who I am or who you are. You are like her, a sinner. And I have forgiven you both. She has responded by loving me. How will you respond?’

Jesus reveals that there is a deep connection between our acknowledgement of sin, our experience of grace, and our capacity to love. When we, like the woman, know deeply our own fallen condition, we know the depths of God’s grace, which spurs us, like the woman, to extravagant love of God and our neighbor. The deeper the sin, the deeper the grace, the deeper the love. But the opposite is true – when we minimize our sinful condition, reduce it a series of unfortunate choices or mistakes – but I’m still a good person – we minimize God’s grace and then shrink our hearts to love. When we downsize sin, we downsize grace, and downsize love. Verse 47: 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins are forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Those of us who speak with a Reformed accent are often criticized for talking about sin a lot, for frequently and strongly stating how we are born in sin and have a natural tendency to hate God and our neighbor. But we do it because we believe Jesus here – we believe that Paul spoke by the Spirit when he said that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and that there is no one who seeks God, no one, not one. We believe that this is true of all of us and that knowing and acknowledging this helps us see just how great God’s grace is so that we can love more. We believe that Jesus speaks the truth that knowing how great my debt was before Christ forgave me will lead me to love more.

We with a reformed accent speak about sin not because we are dour, depressing people, but because we believe Jesus calls us to sing ‘Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me’ not ‘Decent grace how average the sound that saved a most good person like me.’

Small sin, small grace, small love. Big sin, big grace, big love. Through his parable, Jesus reveals to Simon and to us that we all have a debt, and no matter its size, it is bigger than we can pay. But God in Christ has forgiven that debt. That forgiveness should lead us, like the woman, to love. It should lead us to tears of repentance and gratitude. It should lead us to kneel at his feet in modesty and humility. It should lead us to offer our whole lives in service to God as a living sacrifice, a fragrant offering of thanks.

41“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender.

One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty.

42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both.

Now which of them will love him more?”

43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

When our love shrinks like Simon, we are called to remember the grace of Christ who forgives debts that we cannot pay. And when our hearts overflow with gratitude, may we, like the woman, pour out our love at the feet of Jesus. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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