Lent 5A, 2011
Matthew 26: 6-13
A Liturgy is also available
SEEING BEYOND ‘USUALLY’
A few years ago I discovered a poem called "Contact lenses".
And I reckon it speaks as contemporary context to today’s gospel story
as told by the teller we call Matthew.
“Lacking what they want to see
makes my eyes hungry
and eyes can feel
“Once I lived behind thick walls of glass
and my eyes belonged
to a different ethic
timidly rubbing the edges
of whatever turned them on.
was a matter of what was
in front of my eyes
matching what was
behind my brain.
Now my eyes have become
a part of me exposed
quick risky and open
to all the same dangers.
“I see much
and my eyes hurt.” (E S Fiorenza).
Checking my files of sermons this week, I have discovered
I have never preached on this biblical story before.
Well, this story as told by Matthew, that is.
Indeed, I can’t even find it listed as a Lectionary reading.
Another rendition of this story, as told by Luke,
does appear in the Lectionary.
And yes, I have preached on that.
So what is it about Matthew’s story which is different from Luke’s story?
Let me offer some comments by way of comparison.
Matthew says the story happened in the home of Simon the leper
in Bethany, just before Jesus’ death.
Luke says it all happened in the home of Simon the pharisee, in Galilee.
Luke says it was Simon who objected to the unnamed woman’s actions.
In Matthew, it was ‘the disciples’.
In Matthew, the objection revolves around the extravagance of the anointing.
In Luke, Simon’s objection centres on the woman’s so-called ‘sinful past’.
Indeed, for many reasons, the whole of biblical narrative tradition
seems to have been adversely influenced by Luke’s story conclusion.
The sinfulness of the woman.
To compound this conclusion further, some storytellers and commentators
suggest the woman was a prostitute.
But there is absolutely nothing in Matthew’s story
to confirm or suggest this.
And even if you want to push Luke’s story to the extreme edges,
his mention of the woman being a ‘sinner’
does not point to her being a prostitute.
“…this woman need only have been ill or disabled or have frequent contact with Gentiles to be considered a sinner” (Reid 2000:97).
“It is remarkable,” comments new testament scholar, Barbara Reid,
that neither commentator nor Bible translator “has thought to point the reader to the way Jesus perceives her by entitling [the story]: ‘A woman who shows great love’” (Reid. www.textweek.com).
So what is Matthew’s special take, via his storytelling?
I want to suggest it is about having a new perspective - on life and others.
And that’s what the poem is about.
‘Once I lived behind thick walls of glass…
‘Now my eyes have become a part of me exposed…
‘I see much better now… beyond usually.
Can Matthew’s hearers, and now we…
Can all of us move from behind our ‘thick walls of glass’
that has shaped our seeing and hearing of this story.
To ‘see’ the woman’s humanity as well as her great love?
To ‘see’ Jesus’ humanity and his re-imagining of the world?
Generally speaking… women had a leading role in the early Jesus movement.
Women had access to financial resources they used for ministering to Jesus.
Women journeyed with Jesus.
Women were often unnamed.
Our Lenten mentor, Jewish new testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine, suggests:
“Women followed Jesus then, and women follow him now, for the same reasons that men did: because they found something in his person and his message that spoke to their hearts…” (Levine 2006:143).
But, Levine cautions, while many can and do find that inspirational, you
“do not have to construct a negative view of Judaism in order to do so” (Levine 2006: 143).
On the other hand, neither do we have to turn Jesus into some misogynist,
as some current church leaders have done, to support their
farcical arguments that women can not be ordained
or have leadership positions, because Jesus
(apparently) didn’t appoint any women to his inner circle!
We need to stop bearing ‘false witness’.
Such action when it happens must be denounced.
And denounced by Christian theology.
Especially when such claims come from the modern habit of quoting proof-texts
to legitimise policies and rulings and opinions.
But of course Matthew’s story and our reflection on it,
could also have gone beyond ‘women’, and been about
corporate developers bribes,
the continuing war in Iraq,
or Prime Minister Rudd’s ‘20/20’ Summit!
Matthew’s context for this particular story is not the same as Luke’s more popular one.
Matthew’s context it appears, is as a lead up to Jesus death.
Which also fits in with our current season of Lent.
Jesus’ death mattered to Matthew. Indeed, to all those early storytellers.
But only because his life mattered more.
So they all spoke of his death in ways that affirmed his life (Patterson 2004).
And how their own small communities could embrace life, not be scared of it.
So my invitation to you all today is similar:
Embrace life, all of life, and not be scared of it.
Step out from behind the thick walls of glass
and see much better, now…
And see beyond ‘usually’!
Levine, A-J. 2006. The Misunderstood Jew. The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. NY: New York. HarperOne.
Patterson, S. J. 2004. Beyond the Passion. Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus. MN: Minneapolis. Fortress Press.
Reid, B. E. 2000. Parables for Preachers. Year C. MN: Collegeville. The Liturgical Press.