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The Unexpected Waterfall of Tears

Rev. Reebee Girash
Sun, Jun 16

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Psalm 32 and Luke 7: 36-50

There is a sympathy card that reads: tears are a sign that we have loved. Surely, tears symbolize deep emotion, love offered and love received.
The joy of seeing a loved one do something amazing can bring us to tears:
fathers cry on graduation days.
The pain of seeing a loved one hurt can bring us to tears:
daughters cry when their mothers enter nursing homes.
And when we receive unconditional, extravagant love,
that brings us to tears, too.

But how many tears must one cry to wash someone's feet? Think about that: she bathed Jesus' feet with her tears. How much love adds up to an unexpected waterfall of tears?

To answer that, lets wonder some more through this story.

A tale similar to this appears in all four gospels. Many folks will tell you it is the same story, and so important to the gospel that it is told four different ways. (I have said that myself.) The similarities are striking: defying social convention, a woman interrupts a dinner party where Jesus is the guest of honor, breaks open a stunningly expensive jar of scented ointment and pours it all out to anoint Jesus. In the other three gospel accounts, the people around the anointing woman criticize her for wasting something valuable that could have been used to serve the poor; Jesus responds that she has done something beautiful for him, anointing him for his burial. In Matthew, Mark and John, the anointing happens just before Jesus is betrayed and arrested. He predicts, this story will be told in memory of her.

But that is not the story we just read. The details are very different. Let me be bold to say, this is a different woman, a different moment, a different lesson. Maybe Jesus was lucky and he was anointed twice.

This story is not about the woman's extravagant act of love, anointing Jesus. It's about Jesus' extravagant love, compassion and forgiveness: and one woman's response. This is her "sacrifice of gratitude." (Suzanne Guthrie) Tears, an unexpected waterfall of tears: these are the sign that she has been loved and she knows it.

There are three folks in this story.

Jesus - the teacher unaccepted in his hometown; the preacher and healer and reconciler. The one who ate with stinky fishermen and selfish tax collectors and unclean lepers, too. When a different Simon, the one who became Peter, said, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" Jesus told him not to be afraid and made him an apostle. When the leper said, "if you choose, you can make me clean" - Jesus did it. Jesus ate with sinners all the time. He did it because they needed him. And then he taught them, the least and the lost and the last - he taught them to be agents of compassion. To be merciful. This is what he did.

In the verses just before our story, Jesus says this to the crowd: "the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, "Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' 35 Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children."

Simon the Pharisee. Here's an interesting group, the Pharisees. They love God, they uphold the faith, but they are scared mightily by this strange prophet, and they cannot reconcile the audacious acts of Jesus with the law they know and the God they love. I honestly believe in their good intentions. Simon, I think he is trying. He is drawn to this teacher and wonders if he can get closer to God through Jesus. He's a little slow on the uptake - he knows who Jesus hangs out with but he invites him over for dinner anyway. And if he's a little standoffish, wouldn't you be? But let's give this man credit for taking a huge step toward Jesus and his message.

The unnamed woman. I spent Thursday trying to make up the details of her story. First, she is unnamed and if this is not the same anointing as in Matthew, Mark and John - then she is not Mary of Bethany. She is definitely not Mary Magdalene despite Christian myth. She does not have a name. Her anonymity bugs me, but in my minds eye I have given her a face, and beautiful long wavy hair. Picture her.

And she is the one in this tale who knows the blues. On Thursday, I thought I needed to figure out her back story, too. I needed to know what her sin was. It was bad enough to bring public shame upon her. I started wondering down lists of common first century sins. Let me tell you, this was not a pleasant exercise. Then I realized: in doing so, I fell right into the same trap of judgment that Simon did.

Then, out of nowhere, I thought of a moment, recently, when I did something that if everyone here knew it, oh mercy you would not want to have me show up at your dinner table either. Let's say it was between 50 and 500 denarii.

This unnamed woman doesn't need a name. Because I am her. And so, if we are to be all honest and brave, we all are.

Part of her backstory is very important, though. Somewhere, before this morning's story, she met Jesus. Maybe he saw her standing on the edge of the crowd and called out to her like he called out to Zaccheus. Maybe Jesus healed her best friend. Maybe she snuck up behind to touch the bottom of his cloak. Maybe he came up on a group of people ready to cast her out. The important thing is, at some point Jesus must have said to her: your sins are forgiven. Your debt is cleared. I love you; now rise.

Her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence, [that is why] she has shown great love. (David Lose, among other scholars, contends that the moment Jesus forgave her occurred before this pericope. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2601)

"Blessed are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered... steadfast love surrounds those who trust in God." Psalm 32

This is our story. (Simon probably figured out it was his story, too.) God loves us so much that even when we go wondering, even when everyone in town knows what kind of sinners we are, even when we feel like the unnamed woman of the city, the leper, the tax collector, the lost sheep - the shepherd seeks us out. Offers us love. Stands at the gate, watching for us, ready with an unexpected waterfall of compassion, forgiveness, hope and new life.

Jesus saw her, fully, loved her completely, forgave her and invited her to new life.

"Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

That doesn't mean, keep acting the same way. It means go in peace, transformed, saved, renewed.

Nothing sounds so sweet as the voice of mercy. It may seem a brave, impossible thing, to say: I am the unnamed woman, I am a sinner and I seek out forgiveness. But this is the good news: God loves us and calls us to wholeness. We are met with divine compassion. When you hear that voice, how can you not be moved to tears? How can you not be moved to extravagant, extraordinary, audacious acts of gratitude? Of course she would fall to her knees behind him, a waterfall of tears bathing his feet, the most beautiful perfume she could pour out anointing the one who welcomed her home. The only question is, how do we join in that anointing?

Daughters, sons: here is the good news: you are beloved children of God. Always. If there is much for which you need forgiveness, Jesus still says, always says, come home. The debt can be forgiven, there is a path to transformation and reconciliation. You are precious in my sight, and though you may walk through a flood, the rush of great waters will not drown your soul.

Fathers, mothers, if you have ever wondered: how can you keep on loving this son, this daughter - even though....whatever the even though is...this woman, unnamed, is a reminder that sometimes, the prodigal daughter returns. When she does, you will both spring forth an unexpected waterfall of tears.


Song of Inspiration: "Little Black Sheep"
Ashley Cleveland,,Beauty In The Curve
204 Records, 2012, Track number: 10

The boy told the shepherd: there’s a fearful storm
So I went out to the field to drive the flocks home
I counted every lamb into the keep
All except for one
That little black sheep

Little black sheep, little black sheep
In the howling wind with no relief
In a cold, cold world nothin' sounds so sweet
As the voice of the shepherd to a little black sheep

Little black sheep, he ain’t nothin' but trouble
He’s not worth much and he’ll cost you double
Shepherd says he knows but he won’t sleep
He’s gonna go out and find
That little black sheep

Now the little black sheep was the wandering kind
But the shepherd brought him back every time
Mama says: child, when your pride starts to creep
You best remember we all just
Little black sheep

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