Seeing.Pent2C.2004

Pentecost 2C, 2004
Luke 7:36-50

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BEING CONVERTED TO JESUS’ WAY OF SEEING...

This week I discovered a poem called  "Contact Lenses”.
And I reckon it speaks very much to today’s gospel story
as told by the storyteller we call Luke.

“Lacking what they want to see
makes my eyes hungry
and eyes can feel
only pain.

“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.
Seeing usually
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
better now
and my eyes hurt.”  (E Schussler Fiorenza. But She Said).

I see much better now…
The poem is clear.  But do the characters in Luke’s story ‘see’ any clearer?

So joining with a range of theologians who have commented on Luke’s story,
I want to invite you to spend some time with me
checking out what Simon, the pharisee in the story,
had in front of his eyes
and how it matched what was behind in his brain.

And having heard this story again, what is in front of our eyes
and how it is matching what is behind in our brains.

For you see, I reckon this is a great story.
Indeed it is a great couple of stories.
A story about an all-male meal
and the presence of an uninvited woman guest.

And a story... actually it is shaped like a parable,
which is a story with an unexpected twist in its tail,
about two people who owed different sums of money,
being released from debt.

oo0oo

Simon the pharisee through the voice of Luke the storyteller
identify the uninvited guest not just as ‘a women’ but also as ‘a sinner’.
Indeed, the whole of tradition seems to have agreed with this conclusion.

Just look at the so-called story headings printed in some of the many translations of the Bible.
The New American Bible entitles it: The pardon of a sinful woman.
The New Jerusalem Bible and the
New Revised Standard Version call it: The woman who was a sinner.
The Good News Bible is noncommittal: Jesus at the home of Simon the Pharisee.

So too, I am told, is the Christian Community Bible: Jesus, the Woman and the Pharisee. (BReid).

In three out of these five headings, the sinfulness of the woman is the focus.
“It is surprising how many commentators and translators reinforce Simon’s initial perception of the woman” writes Barbara Reid. “None points the reader to the way Jesus perceives her by entitling it: ‘A woman who shows great love’” (Reid 2000:96 (Note 15)).

What Simon sees in front of his eyes, is matched by what was behind in his brain!
Woman. Unclean. Sinner. Outcast.

As a woman, and as a sinner this woman
“has and can have no value, no voice, in Simon’s eyes or in the eyes of his Jewish culture.  She exists only on the margins, shunned by her own ethnic group” (Lisa Onbelet. Web site.).

And as if to compound this interpretation some commentators suggest the woman was a prostitute.
Even though there is no evidence for such a conclusion.
Just fertile (or futile) male imaginations!

But this is the position where Simon begins.
And the place from which he must be moved, by Luke’s Jesus,
in order to ‘see’ the woman with new eyes.

So Luke, storyteller, provides a space for reflection,
for allowing a different way of thinking.
It’s a critical space. 

For in this space Luke has Jesus asking a ‘curved ball’ question:
Do you
see this woman?
Can you see much better now
and change what your brain behind,
or accepted values, assumptions and ideologies, tells you?

That is the big ask. Not just of Simon.
But also of us and others.

oo0oo

Luke has Jesus offering Simon
(and by implication his own community) an explanation.
Although that too has often been mistranslated
and misunderstood by many in the past!

The woman, forgiven much (prior)(result), loves much more
than either good taste or social custom could ever allow.
On the other hand, Simon has little to ask from Jesus,
and as a result has little to give him in return.

So the traditional interpretation, supported by storyteller Luke,
of the parable-sounding story within the all-male dinner story,
has been an example story of grace.

But I am assured (B Brandon Scott) this is only one
of at least a couple of other possibilities that could also be explored.
For instance, another is astonishment and joy
- at when a debt has been totally forgiven.

Such a possibility is, of course, the far more radical suggestion.
Because such action has serious social implications.

If all creditors forgave all debts, such action,
in both a patron-client hierarchical society such as of Jesus’ time
and a capitalistic society such as in our own time,
would result in all persons being equal...

And as any ‘conservative’ politician would rush to tell us,
the so-called ‘good order’ of the present, would be turned into chaos.

Such a literary/social reading of this parable-sounding story
is certainly a twist in the tail, is it not?
And if Luke’s Jesus had this in mind when he told this story to Simon,
no wonder Jesus was seen as a heretic, a subversive, a radical!

Even if his ‘revolution’ was, as I maintain, only one in story.

oo0oo

Luke’s Jesus tells a story.  It could have been a story about
asylum seekers,
detention centres,
homosexuality.

It was a story of two people who owe different sums of money
and have their debts forgiven by their creditor.

He tells this story to open a space for Simon to enable him to critique 
his own position,
his own judgement of the woman,
his own opinion of Jesus. 

It is an important space.
Because in this space Simon the pharisee is removed from centre-stage,
so the face of the ‘other’, the woman,
can be recognised,
can be ‘seen’.

Is Simon persuaded to adopt a new perspective?

Can he move beyond “the thick walls of glass”
that had shaped his seeing the woman as ‘a sinner’
and see, rather, her humanity and her great love?

Can he see Jesus as a prophet and ‘a door way’
into God's compassionate love?

Can he see “much better now”, and does what he see hurt his eyes?
We don't know.
Like all parables, the story is open-ended.
It remains for us to finish.

So I invite you to finish the story…
And to be converted to Jesus' way of seeing.

Notes:
Reid, B. E. 2000.  Parables for Preachers. Year C. Collegeville. The Liturgical Press.

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