Pentecost 4C, 2016
Luke 7: 36-50
A Liturgy is also available
ON HAIR, AND DIVERSITY, AND LIFE
There is an old Celtic Rune of Hospitality I would like you to reflect on for a few moments.
‘We saw a stranger yesterday,
we put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place
and, with the sacred name of the triune God,
he blessed us and our house,
our cattle and our dear ones.
‘As the lark says in her song: Often, often, often, goes Christ in the stranger’s guise’.
Now to our traditional gospel story.
Simon, the pharisee, was a good man. Even a religious man.
And we can speculate further.
He was open-minded enough to invite Jesus to dine with him.
As a pharisee, Simon did his best to keep God's law.
God would have mattered to Simon.
Holiness in God’s sight was important to him.
He would have put enormous effort into doing the right thing.
However, Simon, like so many other people then and now,
lived in a world of white and black, good and bad, insider and outsider.
No shades in between.
This appears to have been expressed in a self-satisfaction with his own goodness.
Or if you like, he despised others who did not live a similar, or good life,
seeing them as weak willed, scatterbrained,
easily corrupted, hopeless fools.
Bad people brought all their troubles on themselves.
Thus he condemned the ‘stranger’, the woman
who so easily gate-crashed his dinner party.
It was scandalous that this woman of ill-repute should dare to enter the house of a righteous pharisee.
It was scandalous that she knelt by the feet of the guest of honour and wet his feet with her tears.
It was scandalous that she used her hair to wipe his feet.
It was scandalous that she poured her perfume
(perfume always the key tool of trade for the ‘oldest profession on earth’) over the feet of Jesus.
Everyone would have been greatly offended.
Everyone that is, except Luke’s Jesus.
Jesus did not see her actions as those which may subvert his image or identity.
Or upset a finely tuned and manipulated PR image.
He not only accepted her actions as part of the culture of hospitality,
similar to our Celtic Rune, but also as
an expression of profound gratitude.
His concern and thoughts, it seems, were not on himself, but on her, the ‘outsider’.
She was the one that mattered.
A few Sundays ago we celebrated Pluralism Sunday.
A time when we were all invited you to give thanks for religious (and cultural) diversity.
Well, this morning’s gospel story by Luke has, I reckon, some affinity
with the modern concept of pluralism.
So let me play with this for a moment.
Back in the 1960s a Canadian bloke called Marshall McLuhan introduced us
to the notion of living in a media ‘global village’.
Since then we have seen our world change significantly,
and much of that change has been in support of a global village notion.
eMail and the world wide web.
Environmental issues, especially ‘global warming’.
Media and popular culture.
How we think about ourselves in relation to the rest of the world
in part determines how we behave toward
other human beings,
our planet, and its creatures (Peters 2002:14).
But many people today, usually influenced by so-called ‘right-wing politics’,
are thinking in ways that are putting this global village
“in peril, simply because they have not included the rest of our planet in their thinking…” (Peters 2002:14).
And the symbol of all this is ‘the stranger’ or ‘the outsider’.
The person who is different from us.
With even only a brief survey of human history we can find the ‘others’
were usually regarded as the out-group and even as the enemy.
Systems of morality that apply to our own group, or nation or religious persuasion
do not always apply to those outside, because the outsider
is seen as somehow less than fully human.
This was true of the European mindset towards aboriginal people.
This is true of religious fanatics, be they Christian or Moslem or Hindu, in our time.
With this attitude towards the outsider, the ‘stranger’, it has been common
to want to convert, to evangelise - to civilise them.
“Or we have thought it morally acceptable to enslave them, to put them on reservations, or even to exterminate them… As long as they learn our language and acquire our customs and values, they are our friends. But if they represent other basic life-styles, they are regarded with suspicion, in the way one regards enemies” (Peters 2002:10).
And of course the ‘we’ can also be the ‘they’!
That’s the problem Luke seems to imply in the story, that Simon has.
That’s the issue Luke seems to imply in the story, Jesus seeks to address.
Pluralism verses exclusivism.
The only religion we should follow, or the only God we should believe in, today,
is the religion or the God who will further our humanisation, that
“will help to make possible the creation of a universal and humane community” (Kaufman 1996:29).
Everything… everyone, has its own inherent worth.
We can marvel at and appreciate the rich diversity of life and societies.
And as life and societies continue to evolve - we are all "100 percent a product of evolution" (Wilson 2007:67) -
we can seek to transform that which is not life-affirming.
However, “diminishing life, hindering human flourishing, and obstructing the ongoing process of [creativity] are wrong… (Peters 2002:12).
Likewise, thinking differently about the ‘stranger’, the outsider,
will enrich our world and our living, because
“with ongoing creative transformation people will become more accepting of differences in a pluralistic yet cooperative world system” (Peters 2002:12).
Kaufman, G. D. 1996. God, Mystery, Diversity. Christian Theology in a Pluralistic World. Minneapolis. Fortress Press.
Peters, K. E. 2002. Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg. Trinity Press.
Wilson, D. S. 2007. Evolution for Everyone. How Darwin's Theory can Change the Way we Think About Ourselves. New York. Delta Trade Paperbacks.