In a week where persisting is all the rage, it’s hard not to approach this text thinking of the United States Senator Elizabeth Warren being warned by Mitch McConnell not to read a letter about a controversial appointee, Jeff Sessions. It has become a rallying cry, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
You could say the same about this “certain immoral woman” with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume. She persisted as she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. She persisted as her tears fell on his feet. She persisted as she wiped those tears off with her hair. She persisted as she kissed his feet and put perfume on them.
As an answer to the Pharisee’s complaint about the “immoral woman,” Jesus told a parable: a man loaned money to two people, to one a smallish amount, to the others ten times that amount. Neither could repay. Which one loved the man more?
And while it’s a great story of persistence, I wonder if that’s too easy. Yes, there’s a political undertone to this Sunday’s text (you can read it here and read the Working Preacher commentary here).
But Jesus’ politicizing is not like ours.
After telling the parable, Jesus goes on. He points out that the host has overlooked an important cleansing ritual, a sign of honor and hospitality. Then Jesus talks about the woman (yes, he talks about her with her standing there) and he calls her a “sinner.” But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that her sins were “many.”
Miroslav Volf, in his book Exclusion and Embrace, says core of Jesus’ message was two-fold: divine love and the need for repentance. In other words, Jesus taught us about God’s unconditional love and that we are sinners.
We don’t ever talk about the poor needing repentance, do we? We don’t talk about the marginalized being sinners, do we? If Jesus shared today’s liberal ideals, he would be saying that the marginalized need justice, that they need healing. Not that they (or we) need repentance, and not a “radical alteration of the course and direction of one’s life, its basic motivations, attitudes, and objectives” but, as Volf says, “repentance implies not merely a recognition that one has made a bad mistake, but that one has sinned.”
Mind you, though. The sins committed by the marginalized were not the sins that the religious people were pointing out to them, like breaking the purity laws. Nor were their sins in a vacuum. The marginalized “commit sin” and “sin is committed against them.”
Volf says this: “The truly revolutionary character of Jesus’ proclamation lies precisely in the connection between the hope he gives to the oppressed and the radical change he requires of them. Though some sins have been imputed to them, other sins of theirs were real; though they suffered at the sinful hand of others, they also committed sins of their own.”
Whew. I’ve been so busy seeing her marginalization, I haven’t noticed her sin. Let me rephrase that… I’ve been so busy seeing my own marginalization, I haven’t noticed my own sin. How shall I repent from that?
What about you? How will you be preaching this text?
Here are some other ideas:
- The woman gave what she had. How do we give “what we have?” to Jesus?
- The woman was shunned by the Pharisee. How do our churches shun sinful women now?
- Jesus saw her sinfulness, but he also saw her goodness. How is that working in and through our political system now? Can we see the goodness of those we’re othering?
- If we write about persistence, what shall we persist in?
And preaching women, one more thing, if I may. I have notice that I am very tired, and I’m aware that our political situation is going to last a long time… Have you scheduled some way to take care of you this week?
Rev. Lia Scholl is not-that-kind-of-Baptist preacher and pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.) and is the author of I Heart Sex Workers (Chalice Press, 2013).
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