Sermon on Luke 7:36-50
4th Sunday after Pentecost,
Sermon by Seminarian Phil Moldenhauer
The Table Manners of the Lord
1. He rebukes the proud
2. He forgives the broken
Text: Luke 7:36-50
What would you talk about with Jesus if he were to come to your house and sit down at your table and eat with you? Would you ask him what it was like to create the world? Would you attempt to satisfy your curiosity with a question like ‘How many hairs are there on my head?’ In the gospel this morning, St Luke has pried a brick out of the wall so that we can peer in on a dinner party that Jesus attended. And as we listen in on the conversation, we are given a glimpse of the table manners of our Lord. The topic of conversation that our Lord selects? Those seated at the table with him.
A Pharisee named Simon had invited Jesus to dinner. Jesus had accepted his invitation, and as he reclined at Simon’s table, a woman who had a reputation also entered Simon’s house. Her name isn’t even given. The only thing we are told about this woman is that her past was well-known to all the city.
Now Jesus was reclining at the table. In those days it was common that people would lie down on something like a couch to eat. The woman came up behind where Jesus was lying and stood at his feet. Big, heavy, wet tears began to flow, until they landed on Jesus’ feet. And if that isn’t strange enough, she gets down, takes her hair in her hands, and uses it to wipe Jesus’ feet. Then she kisses his feet, and pours out the perfume she brought with her onto them.
Simon, the host, had been watching this spectacle unfold. And he’s disgusted. He knows what kind of a woman this is. But his table manners are intact. He doesn’t vocalize his thoughts. He says it to himself: “If this Jesus really were a prophet, he would know that this woman is a sinner.”
It’s only a thought in his mind-this man is no prophet-and yet Luke tells us that Jesus answered him. Jesus knew the thoughts that were going through Simon’s mind.
Yet Jesus doesn’t confront Simon directly. Instead, he says, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Simon.” There’s so much in that one word. It’s as if Jesus were saying, “Simon, what I am going to tell you is going to hurt. But understand this going in: what I say is not said out of malice but out of love and concern for you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” Simon says. “Two men owed money the same lender. One owed more, one less. Neither could pay back the debt, so the lender canceled both of their debts. Now which of the two of them will love him more?”
Simon answers, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“Yes, Simon, you are correct. Now apply it to the present situation: You thought so highly of yourself that you would not even stoop to offer common hospitality to me. You didn’t give me water to wash my feet; you didn’t welcome me with a kiss; you didn’t anoint my head with oil. But look at this woman–this woman whom you despise has done all of this for me and more! She used her tears and her hair to wash my feet. She has not stopped kissing my feet. She perfumed my feet. And all of this is evidence that this woman understands the size of her unpayable debt–and it has been forgiven her. But you, you have failed to see just how much unpayable debt you have!”
Jesus isn’t saying this simply to be nasty to Simon. He is concerned about Simon’s spiritual well-being, and his table manners will not allow him to shrink back from confronting Simon when Simon’s soul is on the line. The table manners of our Lord rebuke us when we’re proud.
And guess what? There’s a little Simon in each one of us, a little Simon who is so proud. This little Simon loves to play the comparison game. “Well, God, at least I haven’t done anything really bad. I’m much better than Mr. Fill-in-the-blank. Man, does he have a reputation.” But Jesus blows a hole right through that line of thinking and reminds us that the amount of debt doesn’t really matter at all if we are unable to pay it off–and none of us is able to pay off our debt of sin.
Or maybe the little Simon inside of us tries to compartmentalize our lives into three neat and tidy divisions: “there’s the ten percent of my life that I know is bad, and I’m willing to confess that and ask for forgiveness. Then there’s the ten percent of my life that I find pretty good, and God, you should be pleased with that ten percent. And the other eighty percent? Well, that’s not really any of God’s business at all.” And again we’ve failed to grasp the debt we owe. We’ve failed to recognize that no good work is pleasing in and of itself but only because it’s done in faith and that we have need to confess not just ten percent but all of our life because everything we do is tainted with sin.
Worst of all, like Simon we’re tempted to look down our nose at Jesus and sneer, “This man is no prophet.” Maybe we don’t put it in quite so drastic terms, but whenever we think that we can really on ourselves to make it to heaven then we really don’t have any need for Jesus at all. “Look at me, God! Here I am in church! I give ten percent! I try my hardest to live a good life. You have to love me.” Then we have elevated ourselves above Jesus and we don’t feel the need to furnish even common hospitality towards him.
Friends, when proud thoughts like these crowd our minds, then Jesus’ table manners to Simon are also Jesus’ table manners to us. Jesus rebukes us when we’re proud. He says: Understand the debt that you owe. Understand that you cannot pay it yourself. Rather, confess it all. Lay it all down in a flood of penitence at my feet. And you will find that I have another, entirely different set of table manners for you.
The woman was so lowly. We’re not even told her name. But Jesus simply turns to her, looks her in the eye, and says, “Your sins are forgiven.” Forgiving sins? Who can say that? The other guests are astounded because all they see in Jesus is a mere man, maybe a prophet but certainly not acting like one at the moment. But the woman got it. She knew that there was no way that she was going to earn forgiveness by what she did. But she also knew that Jesus was more than a prophet–he was the very one who would pay her debt for her!
And to make it perfectly clear and certain that she had done nothing to earn this forgiveness he adds, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
What different table manners our Lord displays with this woman broken down by her sins! Not a harsh word. No rebuke for her sinful past. Only forgiveness and peace–and this for the most notorious of sinners!
Friends, do you have a past like this sinful woman? Maybe it’s something you did years ago. Maybe it’s something you did yesterday. Maybe it’s well-known to all the world. Maybe it’s a secret known only to you and to God. Is there something deep down in your heart of hearts that, when you think about it, makes you wonder whether God could really forgive you? How could God forgive me if he knew that I had done this?
If that thought has ever crossed your mind, then listen to the table manners of our Lord when we are broken down by our sins: He says: Your sins are forgiven! Go in peace!
You know what is amazing about this? Jesus doesn’t just announce forgiveness in general. He says it to the woman. He says it to her specifically. There was no way the woman could think that Jesus was talking to anyone but her. And he says it to you specifically today: Your sins are forgiven! There’s no way for you to think that Jesus is speaking to anyone else: He says to you: Your sins are forgiven, yes, even that sin that festers deep down in your heart of hearts. Have no doubt that it has been forgiven. It has been taken away as far as the east is from the west.
Go in peace, for I have taken your debt-the debt you could not pay in a thousand lifetimes-on my shoulders and carried it to the cross. And there I died bearing all of your sins, so that your debt is removed completely and forever! I died so that you will not die for your sins of being a little Simon. I died so that you will not die for every one of those sins that plagues your conscience. You have nothing left to pay, so let your tears of sorrow turn into tears of joy!
Aren’t these table manners of our Lord what we experience at the beginning of the service every Sunday morning? We say, “I confess that I have sinned…” and then the pastor responds, “As a called servant of Christ…I forgive you all your sins!”
Aren’t these table manners of our Lord what happens at the baptismal font, where a child just as sinful as the sinful woman is washed by the water and the Word and Jesus says, “This one is mine. This one’s sins are forgiven.”
Aren’t these table manners of our Lord what we find when we approach the altar for Holy Supper at which Jesus is both host and meal? What does Jesus say to you when you dine at his table? “This is my body, given for you…This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins! Depart in peace!”
If Jesus came to you and sat down at your table and ate with you, what would you talk about? Jesus would see to it that the conversation at hand turned to you. That is exactly what happened this morning. Jesus came and talked to you about you because he is concerned about you. And the table manners of our Lord haven’t changed since that Galilean evening two millenia ago. He still speaks a word of warning to those like Simon who don’t feel the weight of their sins. But for those like the sinful woman, who know their need for forgiveness all too well, he says no word of warning, no rebuke at all. Only: “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.”
If you would like a copy of this sermon to print or share, click here.