The pastor found a hand-written note on the pulpit. It said, “We know about sin and guilt. Tell us about God’s love and forgiveness.” All we need to know about sin, pain, guilt, and how God loves us, is in this story of the woman with the ointment. Simon the Pharisee gave a fancy dinner for Jesus. In such an event today, men would wear a tie; the women, long dresses. There would be good wine.
Now comes a woman of the streets. She has a low interest in morality and character, and no future. She knows about sin and guilt. She doesn’t need anybody telling her what is wrong with her life. “We know about our sin and guilt.” If our sins each had a specific weight so that each sinful act – lying, cheating, meanness, unfaithfulness, or neglecting God – had an assigned weight, who of us could drag our own baggage? Promises we broke, good intentions never realized, things gone wrong or left undone, deceits we practiced, the torment of lies — no bag is big enough and none of us is strong enough. We say we were victimized, or overcome by circumstances or forces beyond our control. We say, “The devil made me do it,” but in soul’s dark places we cannot lie to God.
In the Garden of Eden, our biblical parents hid. God found them. “Have you eaten fruit which I commanded you not to eat?” God said, “What have you done?” Adam said, “The serpent tricked me.” Is that what we say? This woman had heard Jesus say the kingdom of God is right here, right now, and we, all of us, can enter. Now comes her question. “Is it possible that God loves me?” Is it possible that she is not condemned to the outer darkness of regret and pain and an unresolved aching in her heart?
She wonders, “Is it possible that he might relieve regret and that aching in her heart?” Like us all, she knows about inner conflicts. She doesn’t know how to be somebody else.
“We know about our sin and guilt. Tell us about God’s love and forgiveness.” She is shunned in public by people (that is, men) who call on her in private. She is a failure, beaten by life. She is ripped apart by the impossibility of it all. Jesus is in town. If she could thank him for being a religious person who does not condemn her, maybe at the same time he would tell her that God is merciful.
Does God have room in his kingdom for her? She wants to hear this man say, “Yes, God loves you and forgives you.” Like all the guests at a banquet in Jerusalem, Jesus is reclined at an angle to the table, because this kind of banquet is going to last some while. His feet are exposed. She can’t wait. With all the burden of whether Jesus will give her a word of life and forgiveness and hope, she lets her tears fall on his feet and uses her hair as a towel. The dinner party stops. She kisses his feet and applies the ointment.
Jesus lets her complete her ministry. Everybody stares. What will he say, or do? Simon complains. What a grouch! Jesus scolds him with a little parable. “If a man loaned a little to one person and a whole lot to the other, and then discounted both debts, which one of them would love him more?” That’s what we call a no-brainer.
Now it’s our turn. We have to decide what place Jesus is to have in decisions we make. The fundamental question for all our decision-making is this: Who is Jesus? What is the source of his power? That cuts to the chase. Should we, must we, take him seriously? God says to us through Isaiah, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The Lord makes a way in the sea, puts a path in the mighty waters, gives drink to his chosen people whom he formed for himself that they might declare his praise.”
All that, and then God gave his Son whom we crucified. But resurrected for eternity, Jesus stands before us looking into the inner person. There was a congregation that used prayer cards. I was not the pastor, but I was involved in looking through the cards after they had been left on the altar. Most requests for prayers included the name of the person making the request. The most poignant card did not leave a name. At the place for the subject of prayer was written, “Unspoken requests.” Makes you wonder.
The most perceptive was the one asking prayers for parents whose children have chosen not to follow a life of faith, that the children will have a burning bush experience. How many of us pray fervently without naming our requests because the words would be too painful? How many of us cannot bear to mention our burdens, but we count on the Spirit to intercede FOR US with sighs too deep for words – as Paul wrote in Romans? (Romans8:26) Jesus is the Lord of life and love. “And we whom sin has wounded sore, find healing in the wounds he bore.” (Deep Were His Wounds, No. 100 LBW) Another petitioner requested prayers “for those with pain in their heart who feel as though it will never heal.”
God’s good news is this: There is healing, and there is help, and above all, God’s love is eternal. Even more than the teachings of Jesus, his sacrificial life demonstrated love in action. He gave himself to die that by his resurrection we can rise daily to a new life. What is the new life? Give a cup of water in my name, he says. Live as in God’s kingdom. Forgive one another. Love one another. Open your heart to the reality of God. And there you will find the child of Christmas, the man in agony in the garden, the suffering servant on the cross, the Risen victorious son of God — all in Jesus of Nazareth now become the Christ of the ages.
He gives himself to the people of God and that is his secret. Jesus Christ demonstrates the forgiving love of God and asks us to join him in that great, grand enterprise of living as in the kingdom of God. After all, we are God’s people, God’s chosen people.
We have heard Jesus talk about the kingdom. Now we can see him upon the great white throne where already thousands are singing with full voice “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”
In Jesus Christ, the living God has revealed the kingdom, bringing God’s love to all. “We know about our sin and guilt. Tell us about God’s love and forgiveness.”
The reality of life is that we are saint and sinner at the same time. God alone can bring new life to our wilderness. Let us believe with all our hearts that Almighty God in his mercy has given his son to die for us and for his sake forgives us all our sins.
All that we might do in gratitude, all that we might give of ourselves, whatever cross of service or sacrifice we take up, is not too much to return to him.
The only thing each of us can do, is to find our own appropriate jar of ointment.