Jesus is invited to a dinner party. At this party an uninvited woman who had lived a very tough, Luke says sinful, life comes and pours tears and perfume on Jesus’ feet. The dinner host, a Pharisee, sees this and is disturbed. He doesn’t understand, because he did not capture the marvel of the depth of forgiveness. But Jesus explains that a person who has been greatly forgiven is one is who most joyful and grateful.
This woman is a picture of overwhelming gratefulness. She has sensed the love of God in her life. She intends to anoint Jesus’ feet as a way of expressing her joy, but seeing him, she is overcome with gratitude and begins to cry before she can get the jar of ointment open. Jesus’ feet become wet with her tears; she tries to make it better by kissing his feet and letting down her hair, wiping his feet with it. It only makes matters worse. Respectable women do not let down their hair. Her actions are an escalating social faux pas.
This uninvited guest does not have the words to express her sense of release and forgiveness, and so she shows it. This is a picture of response to surprising grace.
I think we often live like Simon the Pharisee, more than like this woman. We understand grace and forgiveness. We have lots of theological terms in our heads to explain God’s redeeming work for us. Still, how often does it sink into our hearts and overwhelm us to the point being socially inappropriate? We are too cautious, civilized, reserved, controlled.
My then twenty-five year old daughter’s kidneys shut down a year ago January. For nearly seven months, she did dialysis three times a week, five hours each session. It was a most difficult time in her life. After some less invasive medical options failed, we began exploring the transplant option. Eleven months ago this week, I gave my child one of my kidneys. Today she is vibrant, and full of life.
For me, there are no ill effects. (Do you know that over 96,000 people in the United States are awaiting organ transplants?) I do have a three-inch scar on my stomach. This scar reminds me that I got to play a part in giving my daughter a new life.
And it makes me think—Jesus reinterpreted the Passover Meal. He took the bread, broke it and said: This is my body. I look at the scar on my stomach, my broken body, and what I was able to do for my kid, and I catch just a glimpse of what God has done for me. I become overwhelmed anew—at medical technology, and at the surprising, abundant, free, never deserved, over the top, grace of God.
Transplant needs and procedures are no longer theoretical for me. I know that transplants change lives. I just have to look at my daughter. Together, along with the rest of our family, we marvel at the wonder, the joyous surprise of life change. It is enough to make us commit a faux pas sometimes. It is just too good to be true.
When I am at my best and most aware, I know that the work of God in Jesus on my behalf is so much more than dusty doctrine. It is life changing and life giving. It captivates me, overwhelms me.
When we let the amazing work of God sink down deep into our hearts how do we respond? When we realize the extent to which God has poured out life for us, and when we realize the brokenness, the weakness of God for us, how do we reply? I know that when we really understand what God does for me, for this world, we cannot be proper and civilized like Simon the Pharisee. Instead we must let down our hair, weep with joy, anoint, and somehow do something that expresses our gratitude.
The lectionary points us to Galatians 2:15-21 this week as well. This is our response to the gracious work of God : we give our lives to God in humble and grateful obedience. Verse 20 is key: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Jesus breaks his body for us so that we might know forgiveness. The uninvited woman at the dinner party understood the magnitude of the gift. She tries to express her joy. She does a it well. May we too understand the gift and respond to that gift “irresponsibly.”
So—consider becoming an organ donor! In life or in death, you will be able to give life to another.
And more—give your life anew to Jesus in gratefulness for all he has done. Bless the world in his name.