1 Kings 2:1-21a; Psalm 5:1-8; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3
How many of you remember the game Simon Says?
In today’s reading from Luke, we meet Simon. Simon is a Pharisee. Pharisees were experts in Jewish law–they knew it inside & out. So when a woman with a “certain reputation” approaches Jesus at a dinner party & touches him, Simon says, If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him — that she is a sinner. Simon didn’t say it out loud. He didn’t have to. Jesus could read body language, just as we can. He knew what Simon was thinking.
Jesus says, Simon, I have something to say to you.
And then he tells a very short story, only three sentences long. It’s a story about God’s mercy, & the gratitude of those who believe in & receive God’s mercy.
Simon says, You have to be good enough to receive God’s mercy. Jesus says, No, you don’t. God’s mercy is a done deal.
Have you noticed how we begin our worship each Sunday? Turn to
the Greeting, p.4 in your bulletin. Grace, mercy, & peace be with you all. This is the same greeting that appears in New Testament letters from
Paul & others. This greeting is not wishing for something that might happen in the future. It’s about something that’s already happened in the present: God’s grace, mercy, & peace are God’s gift to you now!
Simon the Pharisee would agree with that—as long as you follow the law. Simon says, “Your sins are forgiven…as long as you follow the rules!” Jesus says, Your sins are forgiven. Period.
In the children’s game, Simon Says, you have to follow the rules. If the leader says “Simon says” before a command & you obey, you’re in the game. If the leader doesn’t say “Simon Says” & you do it, you’re out.
Is it really so different in the adult world? If people don’t follow what we think the rules are, in our minds, they’re out of the game.
Simon the Pharisee comes off as the bad guy in this story, but is he really so different from us? Like the rest of us, he judges others. Individuals & groups that we don’t think measure up to God’s rules are out of the game.
In trying to learn what Jesus is trying to teach me, I find it helpful to substitute my name for the name of the person he’s speaking to in the Bible: Simon, I have something to say to you. Scott, I have something to say to you. In this case, Jesus’ teaching challenges my instincts to set up categories & to judge people according to what I’ve decided are God’s rules.
How about you? Can you substitute your name for that of Simon? Is it possible that Jesus is saying to you, I have something to say to you? I know you can if you want to, because in the past when Jesus has said to the people of this congregation, I have something to say to you, you’ve listened. Maybe not right away–sometimes maybe even kicking & screaming!–but eventually you have listened.
Some of you might remember back to a time when churches were divided according to nationalities. That meant there were the Finnish Lutherans, the German Lutherans, the Swedish Lutherans & the Danish Lutherans–& in our case—the Norwegian Lutherans. Each of those groups played the role of Simon the Pharisee. Those other groups weren’t as good as us.
Along the way, Jesus said to you, I have something to say to you, & you listened. Eventually German & Norwegian & Swedish & Danish Lutherans began to worship together, as they do today. Not a big deal!
I’ve mentioned before—& you know about—anti-Catholic feelings. Some Lutherans believed that Catholics were evil & that the Pope was the anti-Christ. We Lutherans played the role of Simon the Pharisee. “Those Catholics are not good enough; they don’t play by our rules.” Catholics had similar feelings toward us. At some point, Jesus said, People, I have something to say to you. And you listened! Those things that seemed like a big deal then are not such a big deal now. Catholics & Lutherans even sometimes worship together.
There was a time when neighborhood covenants were “Whites Only.” And Lutherans, like Simon the Pharisee who believed that God wanted him to be “pure,” went right along with that idea. But at some point Jesus said, I have something to say to you about how you judge & exclude–& you listened. Among us are represented several races & many nationalities.
Other outsiders along the way include women, who were once excluded from being pastors. Jesus had something to say to us about that. And you listened! You’ve even had women pastors.
I have something to say to you, Jesus says to Simon. But as is often the case in the gospel stories, this story doesn’t have an ending. We don’t know how the story ended for Simon. Did he repent? Did he change his mind? Did he change his life? Or, did nothing change? The story is left open-ended to allow us to finish the story with the choices we make in our own lives.
Our human impulse is to set up rules to exclude those who are different from us. No matter how well-intentioned, each of us–like Simon the Pharisee–always has some blind spot that needs attention. Each generation faces some new challenge to those blind spots.
Two things are helpful here: a sense of history & a sense of humor. Simon took himself &his rules too seriously. A sense of humor might’ve helped him see himself, the woman & his situation differently. A sense of history helps, too. Those among you who are older are in the best postion to do that. You could help us remember that controversies that seem like a big deal in one age usually turn out not to be a big deal later.
One of the great blind spots in our day is sexual orientation. If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him — that she is a sinner. The language that Simon uses to judge the woman at his table almost sounds modern.
But the good news in this story is that the woman got in the door! She actually made it to the Lord’s Table where she experienced the love of Christ.
Are there ways that we, perhaps unintentionally, make it difficult for people even to get in the door? How might Jesus, where gay & lesbian men & women are concerned, be saying to us, “I have something to say to you”? If you’ve been listening closely these past few minutes, you will hear that as an encouraging word—because in the past, you have listened.
Because you’ve done it before you can do it again. On the one hand, Simon says, You have to be good enough to receive God’s mercy. You have to follow my rules. Jesus says, No, you don’t. God’s mercy is a done deal. Now—how will you love one another?
Jesus has something to say to us. May God’s grace, mercy, & peace lead us, once again, to listen.