Some years ago, when I was but a `baby Vicar`, one of the men I was in training with thought it might be good for us to visit the local Buddhist Temple; which we duly did. We were warmly welcomed and we had a very pleasant afternoon but when we got back to College the chap who`d suggested we should go wasn`t very happy at all.
When we spoke about it, it became clear that he had harboured some pretty romantic and as it happened, totally unrealistic expectations of Buddhism… “Well”, he said, “If I`d known you had to believe all of that…. I wouldn`t have bothered”.
Now this incident has been in the back of my mind these past couple of weeks because in the first few Chapters of Paul`s letter to the Galatians – which we`ve been looking at – we`ve heard St. Paul making a similar point. What I mean is that Paul has been emphasising that the Gospel, the Good News of what God has done in and through Jesus is what he calls a `Revelation`.
It`s non-negotiable….It`s not something we`ve made up ….and in some respects you only really know you`re in touch with the real thing when you react as my friend did when he discovered what Buddhists actually teach. In other words, the Gospel comes as something which, to put it mildly overturns all your assumptions about yourself and the world. When the Gospel is truly heard there will be a point of tension….. and a call to change.
Now, we get another illustration of this when we look at that story of Simon the Pharisee in our Gospel reading this morning. (Luke 7.36-8.3) Like my friend who was rather attracted to the trappings (at least) of the Buddhist faith…. Simon invited Jesus into his home. Perhaps he liked the kudos of being associated with this up and coming young Rabbi from Nazereth? But whatever was going on, whatever motivated Simon, he was evidently disappointed by the outcome…. We`re told that Simon says to himself, “If this man (Jesus) were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’”
Now, Simon isn`t portrayed in the most flattering way but I hope we might see him as our way into an engagement with Jesus. You see, he obviously wants to interact with Jesus but as the conversation goes on it becomes clear that basically he wants things on HIS terms. What it boils down to is that Simon assumes that Jesus will view the world through the same spectacles as himself…. That for instance, Jesus will judge people in the same way as him ….and of course Simon is wrong.
It`s illustrated beautifully by the verse which always catches my attention when I look at this passage. Did you notice the very pointed question which Jesus asks? He says: “Simon, ‘Do you see this woman?” Somehow Jesus appears to be asking far more than whether Simon notices her… whether he registers her presence. Jesus seems to be asking Simon to look more deeply at what`s really going on… and in effect to acquire a totally different way of seeing.
And so in this passage Simon`s, as it were `monochrome` verdict on this woman is set alongside Jesus`s full colour understanding of who she really is. Jesus doesn`t deny the truth of who and what she has become…. But he sets all of that in the context of who and what she is becoming… thanks to the grace of God.
Through the Prophet Isaiah, we`re told: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord”. (Isaiah 55.8)
All of which is easily forgotten …..and when we do remember it, it`s far easier to say than to live with.. and to internalize. Just like Simon the Pharisee… we may be attracted to Jesus…. We may want to keep company with him …. But it can be so hard to live with a God who doesn`t simply agree with me or endorse my view of the world. I mean someone once suggested to me in all seriousness, “God`s values ARE Middle Class values aren`t they?” Well no….
This Gospel passage is, to say the very least a fertile place for reflection on these things and I would invite you to go and sit with it. So for example, you might in your imagination take Simon`s place in the story and you could reflect on what it`s like for Jesus to accept your invitation to come and be with you in your home.
What kind of welcome you might give him?…. You might like to ask yourself how that feels?… Now that you`ve got his undivided attention….
You could think about why you want him to come closer to you anyway?
So, what are you looking for?
You might imagine him using your name and saying,
“I have something to say to you…. “
And like Simon you might say, “Teacher, speak…” and then you listen.
What do you suppose he wants to say to you…?
Who does he want you to look more closely at…. ?
Which of your assumptions do you think he might over turn?
Where are you being judgemental or lacking in compassion?
Could you begin to see them as He does?
He speaks to you….. what do you want to say to him?