Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-14
Galatians 2:15-21, 3:10-14
And he said unto the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
In an episode of “How I Met Your Mother,” the character Marshall began a new job in Barney’s office. Marshall wanted to be an environmental lawyer, but his financial situation made that impossible, so he took the job that would support his life with Lily. It was a horrible choice, especially since the company that Barney works for is definitely not environmentally friendly. But even worse, the people who worked in the office were course and crude and it was difficult for Marshall to fit in.
The show begins with a monologue about a book Marshall once read called, “Life Among the Gorillas,” by anthropologist Dr. Aurelia Birnholz-Vazquez. She wrote the book after spending time living among the gorillas. She tells the read how she learned to become like the gorillas so that she would fit in, so Marshall decided to do the same. He went to Barney for advice, practiced a crude story and learned to act like a gorilla, at least the type of animals in the office. The behavior eventually became problematic when it affected his relationship with Lily. She didn’t like the man he was becoming. In one scene, after he’s gotten the trust of his co-workers, Marshall looks at himself in the mirror. What he sees shocks him: he looks like a gorilla.
The scene was humorous, but there are several spiritual lessons to be learned. First of all, it is so easy to become what you pretend to be, easily losing sight of the real as you take on the characteristics of those around you. I don’t know the story of Dr. Aurelia Birnholz-Vazquez, but I image she never really became a gorilla. It was important for her to become like the gorillas in some ways so she could learn from them, but she was still a human being when it was over. When we are trying to fit in with a peer group, however, the differences are not as stark, so we fall into the bad habits without even realizing it.
The other lesson is that sometimes we have to look in the mirror so that we can see ourselves as we really are. In other words, it is easy for us to look at our coworkers and see that they are gorillas, but we don’t see it in ourselves. That’s what happened to Marshall; it took Lily’s love to bring him back. She had to show him that he’d become the very thing he’d despised when he started the job. Though he’d seen himself in the mirror earlier in the show, he thought he could separate what he was doing at the office and how he lived at home. Lily became his mirror when he exhibited the bad behavior at home.
You’ve heard it said that if you point a finger at someone, you have three fingers pointing back at you. We are quick to make judgments about the actions and behaviors of others, but all too often we are doing exactly the same thing. We might think that we are justified, or that we are doing it differently, but in reality was are all acting like gorillas. We just have to see it. We just have to look in the mirror when we are casting judgment on another and realize that we too are imperfect sinners in need of a Savior.
That’s what we see going on in both our Old Testament and Gospel lesson. In the passage from 2 Samuel, David is faced with the reality of his own sinfulness. In the lesson from Luke, Simon is the one who is invited to look into the mirror. Unfortunately, one of the two never really see themselves as a sinner.
We had an interesting conversation in Sunday School on Sunday about Simon. I’ve always read this passage with a dislike for the Pharisee. He seems to have an ulterior motive. Why did he invite Jesus? How did the woman get into his home? Why didn’t he do anything to stop what he considered wrongful behavior? I think he was trying to catch Jesus in a fallible moment, certainly made clear when he says, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner.”
Jesus didn’t need to perceive anything. It was obvious that she was a sinner. She let down her hair, an act of wantonness. She approached a stranger and touched him. She did not act like an honorable woman. His disdain of her is obvious. We don’t know by the text, but I’ve always wondered if Simon knew this woman in ways that he should not have known her. In a story found in John 8, Jesus comes upon a crowd about to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery. Jesus bends down with a stick in hand and writes something on the ground. Some of them walk away. He writes even more and more walk away until He’s left along with the woman. The scene has often been interpreted as one in which Jesus accused the leaders of using women like her. Did Simon have his own dalliances with sinful women?
We don’t know for sure, but it certainly puts a clear connection between the sinners in Jesus’ story. He talks about one debtor owing much and another owing little. “Which of them therefore will love him most?” Simon answers, “The one who is forgiven much.” Jesus points to the woman who honoring Him in a most beautiful way and says, “Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me no kiss: but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”
Did Simon see himself in the story? Did he recognize his own sinfulness? Jesus does not directly judge Simon for any specific action, and it even seems as though Jesus is agreeing that Simon is not as great a sinner as the woman. After all, in cases of adultery, if that’s the situation here, the woman would be to blame even to a greater degree. I don’t think Simon gets it. I don’t think he sees himself in the mirror. We see no act of humility or confession. Though there are other stories about men named Simon, this seems to be this Pharisee’s only appearance in the biblical record. If his purpose for the dinner was to entrap Jesus, it didn’t work. Instead, the woman experienced the incredible grace of God, was forgiven and is held up as a paragon of faith. He is remembered as the one who did not honor Jesus in even the most customary ways.
The story is much different in the Old Testament lesson about David. We know the story: David saw Bathsheba and wanted her. Her husband Uriah was on the battlefield, fighting for David’s kingdom. Bathsheba had little choice in this matter: she was called by the king and she willingly went to him. Unfortunately, the dalliance ended with a pregnancy. David tried to manipulate Uriah to have intercourse with his wife so it would appear the child was his. When that did not work, David had Uriah placed in the front lines. He was killed. Bathsheba went to the palace and became one of David’s many wives.
In our story today, Nathan the prophet approaches David with a story about a rich man who stole the only sheep of a poor man. David was infuriated. “That man deserves to die!” That’s when Nathan held up the mirror. “You are that man.” Unlike Simon, however, David sees the reality of this judgment. He confesses his sin and accepts God’s punishment. “I have sinned against Jehovah.” David recognizes his own sinfulness, not against Uriah and Bathsheba, but against God Himself.
Nathan says, “Jehovah also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” Isn’t it interesting that God forgave David even before David confessed his sinfulness? It is not our confession that brings mercy but God’s love. Jesus had the same love for Simon as He had for the woman; Simon was not willing to receive it.
We don’t much like the ending of this story. Why does God allow the innocent child created in the lustful embrace of two human beings to die? It doesn’t seem fair. In this story we are reminded that though God does forgive us our sins, we have to suffer the consequences of our actions. The death of the child was actually an act of mercy. He would remain a constant reminder of David’s sin. We know that God never stopped blessing David, and even blessed David and Bathsheba’s marriage, because their son Solomon took over the throne. It was Solomon who would lead Israel to greatness, who would build the temple and who would make the world honor their God.
I think it is important to note that it is in this story that we see why David was not allowed to build the Temple. Nathan says, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thy house, because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.” Later, when David wanted to build the Temple, God told him, “No. There is too much blood on your hands.” We know that David was a fierce fighter; he killed thousands of men in battle. He also had to fight constantly for his throne, fighting against even his own children. But it all went back to the innocent blood he drew when he sent Uriah the Hittite into the hands of the Ammonites.
It would be nice and easy if we took on the role of Lily, Jesus or Nathan, by pointing others to look in the mirror. There’s even a place for it, as we take the Gospel of forgiveness to the world. Who will accept mercy that is not necessary? Who will seek forgiveness that is not warranted? Yet, we cannot forget to look into the mirror once in awhile ourselves. We, too, have sinned against God. We, too, have done what’s wrong. We need His mercy and His grace as much as our neighbors. When we are pointing our finger at them, three are pointing back at us. Are we going to respond like David, or Simon?
Simon was a Pharisee who knew the Law of God. He knew what it took to be faithful according to his religious traditions. He was among the righteous of Israel. Or he thought he was. There were those in the early church that had faith in Christ, but also continued to live in that understanding that obedience to the Law was rewarded. In today’s second lesson, Paul addressed the people who thought they were saved, blessed by God, because they were Jews and adherents to the Law. Paul told them that even they are not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul writes, “…yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
It is faith that saves and in faith our lives are no longer our own. We are Christ’s and He lives within us and everything we do, we do in faith. Even when we fail—David most certainly sinned again and it is likely the woman did, too—God’s grace holds firm and forgiveness remains. We can’t earn God’s love or keep it ours by our works. God’s grace is ours through faith, not works. He says to us, “I have put away your sin; you shall not die.”
Forgiveness comes first, even before we know we are sinners. David was forgiven even before he confessed his sinfulness. The same is true of the woman in the Gospel story. Whether or not she was planted by Simon to test Jesus, the woman approached Jesus humbly and in tears. Jesus asked, “When they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most?” He then described how the woman loves Jesus more than the Pharisee. She was responding to the forgiveness that she had not yet received; she had faith that Jesus would be merciful. She was responding to grace of God that comes to us even as we are sinners.
Jesus said to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” She turned to the God of grace and experienced the mercy that He offers so freely. Simon, on the other hand, invited the God of grace into his home but did not recognize Him and did nothing to welcome Him. He missed the most incredible gift, even as it came to him so freely. David experienced the humbling truth of Nathan’s story: he was a sinner in need of God’s grace, and he learned that the forgiveness was there even before he recognized his need.
David’s life was probably much different because of his indiscretion with Bathsheba and Uriah. However, God remained true thought it all. Ultimately that promise was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ who now sits on the throne as King forever. It would take generations for that promise to be fulfilled, and God’s people would fall away from Him repeatedly in those years, but God remained true despite David’s failure and despite the failure of all who followed. In today’s story we see David’s humility and his faith. He believed God’s word and embraced His forgiveness.
David lived in that forgiveness, trusting in the promises of God. The psalm for today is from David; it is a song of thankfulness for God’s mercy. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom Jehovah imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” David recognized what it took to live in peace: acknowledge sin and receive the forgiveness that God has given so freely even before we recognized our need.
David’s life was changed because of his sin, perhaps not always for the better, but his faith in God never wavered. It does not seem as though Simon’s life was changed by the encounter with Jesus. The woman’s life was most certainly changed. She probably joined the group of women who followed and supported Jesus. Luke tells us about these women: Mary that was called Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and many others. These are women who were healed and forgiven, who responded to God’s grace with “their substance.”
Look in the mirror. What do you see? Do you see the gorilla that you’ve become living in this jungle world? Remember: God has already forgiven you. Whatever your sin, whatever your failure, whatever your indiscretion, it is finished. And now, how do you respond? Do you invite Jesus into your life but ignore the reality of your need for His forgiveness? Do you confess your sin against God? Do you humbly approach the Savior and give Him your whole self? There is nothing we can do to earn the grace of God, but that grace is meant to be life-changing. Look in that mirror again; forget the gorilla you once were and see the Christ who now dwells in you. Have you been changed by God’s grace? Will you now go in peace to serve the Lord?
A WORD FOR TODAY
Back to Midweek Oasis Index Page