a sermon based on Luke 7:36 -50
by Rev. Thomas Hall
Inspiration for artists can come from a
variety of sources. For Ansel Adams snow-capped mountain vistas often captured his
imagination. Georgia OKeefe is remembered for her intricate and delicate photographs
of flowers. But for artist Kathe Kollwitz (late 19th / early 20th century) inspiration
came not from hill or dale but from suffering-hopeless, stupid suffering. She captured as
no other the suffering that war, poverty, and social vice created. To underscore the
hopelessness she saw all around her in the impoverished part of Berlin where she lived,
she used blunt charcoal to create grotesque caricatures of human form and pain.
One image is especially haunting. I can still see it-a little man stands in a shadowy
corner just outside the doorway of what might well be a grand European cathedral. The
shadows keep us from getting a good look at him, but we see enough. He has a piece of
paper crumpled in his hand and he looks intently to the action on the other side of the
door that stands ajar. The man is apparently in a quandary: do I go in or should I just
stay out here? His eyes suggest a deep longing to enter the place of worship to pray. But
his posture and face tell a different story-he couldnt possible enter through the
door into the sanctuary. The one-word title at the bottom of the drawing tells us why he
stands in the shadowy corner. The drawing is simply entitled, "Fear."
Kathe Kollwitz drawing of fear is not far from another artists rendition of
someone else standing in a shadowy corner. This artist is Luke-at least thats what
tradition has ascribed to this evangelist. He is a physician and an artist. In the gallery
of his gospel, we see an interesting scene containing three characters-Simon the Pharisee,
and unnamed woman, and Jesus. The story goes like this.
Jesus responds to a dinner invitation from Simon the Pharisee. The day arrives and he
shows up at Simons house for lunch. Now we already know something of Jesus from his
life and teachings, but what do we know about Simon? Simon wears the title Pharisee and
that supplies important information. To be a member of the Sanhedrin Council which
Pharisees were, youd have to be literate and educated. And by virtue of his
knowledge of religion, he would naturally wield a fair amount of authority and influence
in the community.
But theres more. If we go back just one chapter we learn one more thing about
Simon: he has an opinion about Jesus. "Jesus a prophet? Bah humbug!" No, Simon
believes that Jesus is not a prophet. Luke informs us in a sidebar statement that the
Pharisees and experts in religious law had rejected Gods plan for them. So Simon has
rejected Jesus as playing any role whatever in Gods plan. But of course he lacks
hard evidence about this hunch. So were safe to say that Simon has invited Jesus
over to scrutinize him, to confirm his opinion of Jesus.
But we dont want to cast aspersions on Simon nor mischaracterize him. Luke does
not draw Simon as some bad guy or villain in sheeps clothing. The Simon-types of
Jesus day were quite the opposite. We might say we believe the Bible from Genesis to
Revelation-thats sort of an in-house mantra in some Christian communities. Well,
Simons friends would say the same. They believed the Law, the Prophets, and the
Remember what the Bible says in Psalm 26:4? A little rusty? Well Simon would be
wondering if we want it in Hebrew or English. I do not spend time with liars or go along
with hypocrites. I hate the gatherings of those who do evil, and I refuse to join in with
the wicked. In Simons world, holiness and good moral living is at the center of the
universe. The bestselling book among Simon and his friends might well have been The
Righteous-Driven Life. Those who truly loved God hated sin-and of course, sinners.
So you can imagine that Simon may not have been a party-hearty kind of guy the day
Jesus entered his home. And we may never have even been privy to Lukes little
charcoal sketch of this one day in the life of Jesus except what happens next. Because
what happens next ratchets up the drama.
For walking into the story is Simons opposite: shes a woman, not a man,
bears no name, and arrives uninvited. Luke simply says of this woman that she was a
certain immoral woman. Wouldnt that look good on a business card: Immoral
person;" just dial 1 900 XXX-XXXX. Unnamed? Shes been handed plenty of names by
others-the village hooker, a prostitute, a street-walker, and worse. Maybe Luke left off
the womans name as a act of propriety and kindness.
Youd think a party-crasher like this woman would be absolutely scandalous to
Simon. After all, hes spent his life trying to avoid her crowd. Hes read about
her in Proverbs 7-Dont wander down her wayward path. For she has been the ruin of
many . . . her bedroom is the den of death.
But on the other hand, could this be a set-up by Simon? Maybe Simon wanted to test
Jesus knowledge of proper deportment and reactions of prophets to such
party-crashers. "How will Jesus react?" Simon must have wondered. Will he rise
up in righteous indignation at such an encounter? John the Baptist wouldve done
that. Elijah wouldve done that, Simon reasons. So if Jesus is some prophet like
that, then, well, well see what hell do.
This ImOkayYoureNotOkayTooBadForYou paradigm of Simons isnt
just a rough caricature of first century Palestine. Havent you seen Simon the
Pharisee in our churches? He sometimes leads in worship, you may see her reading the
lessons on Sunday, Simon might facilitate a small group or even preach sermons.
Recently I was leading a small group that included Christians and persons considering
the Christian faith-about ten of us on this particular night. Im not sure how we got
on the subject, but in the course of the discussion someone said, "I believe in
reincarnation." To their credit the group-all of whom would not embrace this
belief-did not try to correct or to put this young lady down for her remarks. I found it
even more insightful that for the first time that night during closing prayer, this same
person said, "Thank you God for this group, that there is openness to question and
search for you."
"Pastor Hall," I heard the voice over the phone the next day with some energy
to it, "we are appalled that you didnt speak up and correct that young
ladys off-the-wall remark. "But we agreed when we began this small group,"
I reminded the caller, that we would allow people to express their honest feelings,
beliefs, and questions without fear of reprisals, of getting answers thrown at them or
"Well, count us out; we will not stay in a Christian small group that believes in
reincarnation!" I heard her mind clearly-if he were really a Spirit-filled pastor,
why he wouldve . . ."
We released our Simonized friends to seek ministry in a theologically more comfortable
environment; but we chose to keep our seeking friend under the nurture and openness of the
So Simon is sitting there having this great intrapersonal conversation with himself.
Hah! I knew it! Glorious day-Jesus is an imposter and not a prophet! If he were a prophet
he would have known that that . . . women who dared to touch him was one of those . . .
Yet the hilarious part of this story is that Jesus is listening in on Simons
little internal conversation. He knows exactly what Simon is thinking. Not only that, but
Jesus forms a little on-his-feet story that unveils Simons discrimination and
judging spirit. "Hey, Simon, got a an after dinner story for you."
"Say on," says Simon.
"Okay. Two people take out loans from a banker; one guy takes out a loan for
$10,000 and the other hits him up for ten bucks; both go belly up. In the end, the
banker-friend releases them of their debt. So Simon," Jesus concludes, "which is
going to more appreciative of their banker-friend?"
"Thats obvious!" says Simon (who always likes to solve riddles),
"the one who owed $10,000."
"Bingo! Absolutely right!" Jesus affirms. But then he brings the story
home-maybe too close to home so that soon enough, Simon gets the point. Hes the one
who has withheld hospitality and honor from Jesus because Simon enjoys a together life, a
morally upright life already. What good is forgiveness to him? Forgiveness for what-a
measly infraction of miscalculating a step on Sabbath day? What? Forgetting to tithe a
couple of leaves of mint?
The woman, on the other hand, has been standing in a shadowy corner most of her life.
Her eyes suggest a deep longing to enter Gods presence for forgiveness. But
shes no Simon. She couldnt possible enter into Gods presence. "For
Gods sake, I know who I am and what Ive done," she cries. So she stands
in the shadowy corner looking in, longing to come in but afraid to come in.
"I do know who you are and what youve done-and youve done some
things-but I forgive you."
Let God use this story to remind us that we are to be holy persons; thats who God
calls all of us to be. But God is at work in our life not to insulate us within holy
enclaves, but to release us into ministry in ways that draw people to God. In ways that
show the hospitality of one who has been forgiven an impossible debt and can only act out
In the end, Jesus answered Simons question for him. "Is he or is he not a
prophet?" Simon had wondered. Simon discovered that day a prophet truly had entered
his house. For Jesus not only knew who it was who came in and wept and washed his feet
with her tears, but he also knew Simons thoughts and read his judgmental heart.
Thats a real prophet! But hes more than a prophet, because he not only read
hearts and minds, but he did something that only God could do-he said, "your sins are
forgiven!" And he continues to be more than a prophet for us. Amen.