June 8, 2010

at arms length

There was a lot of discussion in my lectionary group this morning about Simon the Pharisee. We wondered why he invited Jesus over. We wondered what happened to him after dinner. We pondered why he didn't extend the normal rituals of hospitality to Jesus.

In the end, we decided that we don't know, but we have some thoughts based on the choices Luke makes in telling the story.

First, Luke tells us that Simon thought to himself, "if this man really is a prophet..." Last Sunday we heard that Jesus was being hailed as a great prophet after raising the dead son of the widow at Nain. Seems to me that Simon's invitation was an exploratory mission; an attempt to learn more about Jesus. This is why he doesn't extend hospitality, that is to say, this is why Simon does not enter into relationship with Jesus. It is just too risky. Jesus is at the very least unclean from having touched a coffin, so best not to touch him with a kiss or even allow a servant to touch his feet. Simon is making, in his culture and position, a wise decision. Learn first, enter into relationship later.

This is what makes the encounter with the woman so wonderful. She too has heard about Jesus. She knows he's unclean. She knows the risks, but jumps in to the deep end with extravagant gestures of relationship; tears, hair, kisses, ointment. Her response is to dive into relationship while Simon chooses instead to keep Jesus at an arms length.

In the end, though, I believe that Simon has an epiphany. I think in the midst of the parable and Jesus' explanation, Simon hears Jesus talking to him. After Jesus tells the woman her sins are forgiven, Luke tells us that table erupts in conversation, but I take note that Simon is not mentioned. I picture Simon, sitting next to Jesus sitting quietly, pondering what Jesus has said, having taken at least one step closer to entering into a relationship with him.

We will never know the motivations of Simon nor what happened to him after that crazy dinner party, but each of us can know what it is like to stop holding Jesus at an arms length and instead welcoming him into our lives, into relationship, and thereby be saved, healed, and made whole.

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