“Your faith has saved you”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Second Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-25
Galatians 2:11-21
Luke 7:36-50

NEWS FLASH–Preacher seen in compromising situation with woman of ill repute.

“A woman with a questionable past was seen lavishing kisses on a traveling evangelist. Witnesses add that he offered no resistance to her overtures. Some observed a dubious behavior performed by draping her hair over him and rubbing it on him. Others note that she was seen putting a perfumed ointment over certain exposed parts of his body. One witness said that she appeared to be very embarrassed, sobbing and crying with tears of sorrow, but he showed no signs of remorse whatsoever!”

The facts in the above news release are accurate and true. As with much news reporting, however, a certain slant or bias has been added to the original event that occurred around 30 A.D. This is the real scoop:

A Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to his house for dinner. Jesus accepted and, as was their custom, reclined at the table. We are not told what Simon’s motive for the invitation might have been. The author of the story (Luke) revealed that the Pharisees had rejected Jesus’ message. Simon may have wanted to check Jesus out for himself. He may have been looking for a little notoriety–a notice in the paper about a famous rabbi visiting a local Pharisee. On the other hand, he may simply have been following the Jewish rules of hospitality, giving food and shelter to the sojourner or traveler.

One thing we do know is that Simon did not go out of his way in his hospitality. He omitted several common practices. He did not offer any water to Jesus so that He could wash the stains of travel from His feet. He did not embrace his Visitor with any sign of admiration and he did not offer any oil for Jesus’ wind-blown and dusty hair. Simon may have been doing his duty, but no more. He was not impolite, but he was hardly warm and friendly with his welcome.

A woman came in who had the reputation of being a sinner. No specifics about her sin are offered, but Simon assumes that if Jesus were a prophet, He would know enough about it to be offended by the woman attempting to touch Him. One author has suggested that when she first entered his house, Simon would have been upset to the point that, if looks could kill, the local undertaker would have had business on his hands.

As I mentioned, Jesus was reclined. His head would have been toward the table and his feet away. It seems evident that the “sinner” either had no intention of speaking to Jesus or that her sobbing would prevent her, because she walked around behind Him. She also may have guessed about Simon’s bare- bones hospitality, because she brought a jar of perfumed ointment, presumably to fulfill the custom of anointing Jesus’ head.

She needed no water for His feet–she was crying profusely. Having come prepared to anoint His head not wash His feet, she had no towel. After using her tears to wash his feet, she used her hair to dry them, kissed them and then went ahead and put the oil on them as well. She never said a word. Neither did Simon.

No one had to speak. Simon was right in assuming that Jesus would know what was going on. He was wrong in assuming that Jesus was merely a prophet and He was as wrong as he could be in expecting Jesus to reject her. We are left to assume that the woman must have heard Jesus speak somewhere along the line. She would have known the risk of being thrown out of Simon’s house, so she apparently counted on Jesus accepting her act of humble repentance and service. Jesus recognized her faith–the saving faith we all need.

The woman knew she did not deserve Jesus’ attention or acceptance, yet she believed she would get it. She came seeking Jesus’ forgiveness. She believed that the free gift of lavish love He promised could be hers and it was. Her silent plea for grace and mercy did not go unnoticed.

Simon’s silent snobbery was not ignored either. With one of His marvelously simple attention-getting lines, “Simon, I have something to tell you,” Jesus began one of His famous stories. It was hardly a complex parable–the point was blatantly obvious: “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him 500 denarii and the other 50. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Almost as if Jesus might have been telling a riddle, Simon covered his answer with “I suppose,” before saying, “the one who had the bigger debt cancelled.” Jesus approved the answer and then went on to compare Simon’s lack of minimal courtesy to the woman’s maximal service. Turning to the woman, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.” He added, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

The woman still never spoke a word, but I sort of wonder if she could be the anonymous author of the words: “There is still much I do not know about God, but what I do know has changed my life!”

How many people have lived as sin’s intimate companion? How many have you told of the Savior who will not turn them away? How many people do you suppose there are in the world who, like Simon the Pharisee, think they have already made themselves right with God? It is our mission to help them know that only Jesus can reconcile them to the Father. All self-made righteousness is in vain.

In Sunday’s Epistle lesson, St. Paul tells the Christians in Galatia about a conflict he once had with Simon Peter. The situation occurred when Peter had rejoiced with some converted Gentiles. Ignoring Jewish custom and law, he spent time and even ate with them. Then, when some conservative Jews from Jerusalem arrived, he withdrew from the Gentiles and ate meals only with fellow Jews.

For Peter, it was a minor concession–keeping peace within the “family”–a matter of simple appearances. For Paul, it was an issue that compromised the very essence of the Gospel. Like the Simon who invited Jesus to dinner, Simon Peter gave the appearance of one who believed God was indebted to him for his legalistic piety. Paul thought that Peter’s actions, no matter how subtly, obscured the Gospel. Paul wasn’t there when Jesus told the sinful woman that her faith had saved her, but he knew it was the only way.

Paul wrote about the incident in Antioch because some Galatian Christians had been convinced that they must do something in addition to believing in Jesus. They had been made to feel that faith alone was not sufficient. They had to keep this or that portion of the Law. Any perversion of the Gospel put Paul into action. He believed that to even suggest that justification could come through the Law–in any degree whatsoever–would be to say that Christ died for nothing!

Paul knew that Christ died, not in vain, but for him. Like the woman at Simon’s house, there may have been much he didn’t know about God, but what he did know sure changed his life. He wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Paul recognized an inner strength that was not his own and he knew from whom it came.

In our day, when governments speak about “dealing from a position of strength,” most of us know they mean superior weaponry and armaments. But that is not a true position of strength. True strength is inside people, not inside arsenals and it comes from God. This spiritual adrenaline begins with the faith that saves us, but it comes to fulfillment through growth in the Spirit until Christ lives in us.

“Soapy” Williams, former Governor of Michigan, once related a story from his relationship with his own son. The boy was struggling to carry a heavy rock across the yard. Soapy called to him and said, “Son, why don’t you call upon all your resources?” The son protested, “But Dad, I am. I am!” Soapy answered, “You haven’t asked me to help you.”

You see…the son’s resources included all the father’s resources, but he hadn’t laid hold of them. Does that tell you something?

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