Running with the Wrong Crowd: The Outcast Luke 7:36 – 8:3

Guess who is coming to dinnerThese next four Sundays we will remind ourselves of the wrong kind of people Jesus hung with in his ministry.  When we read these stories in Luke, we have to wonder what his mother thought upon hearing who her son was with last night in Cana.  In this story, Jesus starts out running with the right crowd as a man of the temple invites Jesus to his home for dinner.  

When I was a young pastor a well-respected couple moved into the town.  I was excited when they asked me to their home; feeling like I was running in the right crowd.  I assumed we get to know each other and I would tell them how we hoped they would join our church.  We sat in the living room that didn’t look overused.  They begin by pointing out problems with the church, my preaching, and what I needed to change if they were going to be a part of the right crowd at First Baptist, Blossom, my bubble busted. 

I wonder what Simon thought when inviting Jesus to dine.  Jesus had created a stir as an original holy man and all sorts were attracted to him.  Did this leading citizen think he was placing himself in the right crowd? Unamed Woman

His agenda was interrupted by someone who would be considered the wrong crowd, a woman of the city, says the text.  She is described as a sinner which most think meant she well-known prostitute. Luke didn’t say so; she might have been a known adulteress.  It doesn’t matter to Luke who she is.  But, it matters to Simon; he can’t have someone like that around good people, especially when there’s God talk going on.

They’re reclining at the table that would sit inches off the ground.  The diners would lie on one elbow with one hand free to eat, legs dangling behind; making their feet accessible.  This tainted woman breaks into the room of dignitaries and pours expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and weeps.  This would be a tasteless show of affection; shattering all customs. 

JudgingShe ignores their disparaging looks; she was liberated from the oppressive need of worrying about what others thought.  She sees no basin or towel, so she lets her hair down and dries her tears from his feet with her flowing locks; an act only appropriate for a husband and wife.  A woman’s hair was a sign of sexual fertility, which is why women wore head coverings.  

This woman had experienced a breakthrough that changed the way she understood herself, her past and how she would live in the future.  She came to express gratitude to the one who had opened her eyes.  We are astonished at the way Jesus responds to this awkward situation.  If we had been Jesus, our first thought would be “What are people going to think?  They’re going to wonder how I know this woman.  This will devastate my reputation?”  Jesus had every reason to be embarrassed.  Jesus could have stopped her and not risked being accused of running with this outcast. 

Jesus did not need her conform to their standards of respectability, nor was he worried of his reputation.  He simply celebrates what had happened to this woman that prompted this behavior, which we’re not told what it was, except we know it was life-changing.  The mercy of God broke into her life through the gracious ministry of Jesus.  What happened to her was more important to Jesus than being reputed to run with the wrong crowd.  Change

Luke contrasts the hospitality of Simon to the unnamed woman.  This woman was confident she had received undeserved love and forgiveness so she expresses her gratitude by giving herself to him completely and recklessly.  Luke portrays Jesus welcoming her affection.  Throughout Luke’s gospel he points to times Jesus met people with scandalous joy rather than scrupulous judgment, while running with the wrong crowd.

Simon wonders if Jesus is a prophet since Jesus isn’t insightful enough to know this woman.  Jesus is prophet enough to know Simon’s thoughts.  He tells of a creditor who cancels the debt of a great debtor and a small debtor.  Which one will love their benefactor more? Jesus asks.  “The one for whom he canceled the greater debt,” Simon says.  Exactly, those forgiven most, love most.  Those forgiven little, love little.  Jesus insists!

debt forgivenSimon tabulates good deeds against bad; figuring how people measure on a balance sheet.  Jesus had a different scale that weights what we do with after we have been forgiven, not what we did to need it!  To weigh in on what things people have done to need forgiveness is not only inhospitable, but is a breeding ground for hostility.  To weigh in on how people live after experiencing forgiveness creates a community of hospitality because all stand equally at the level ground around the cross. 

Jesus asks Simon, Do you see this woman?  If he were truthful, Simon could not see her, for all he saw was a woman of the city who ran with the wrong crowd that broke into his right crowd.  The reason he couldn’t see this woman is because he couldn’t see in God’s eyes they were more alike than different; both equally in need of the undeserved grace of God.Forgive

How do we avoid the trap of Simon?  We like to say we’re not perfect, but we prefer to not be specific about our imperfections.  We fear admitting a particular sin could lower us from the perch from which we peer at other’s faults.  Admitting our own errors could cause other people to think we are running in the wrong crowd.  So, we standardize our relationship with God; using spiritual checklists to keep up the appearances we’re running with the right crowd.  This short-sheet us from experiencing the depth of God’s love, for righteousness cannot facilitate relationship.

We’re to be honest with the weakness of our flesh so we might know more of the amazing grace of God.  Authentic living chooses sincerity over pretentiousness and reality over image.  We will make this choice when we have deep trust in God who loves us completely; confident God seeks to be in a life-shaping relationship with us.  It is at this point, we come to embrace real grace, knowing there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more or less, God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love. 

Ponder anewMuch of these lessons are learn from a curriculum we begin to comprehend often times while begging God to change circumstances in our life.  God has a history of using what might feel wrong to peel back any illusion we’re in control.  This isn’t a comfortable, but we’ve not been abandoned by our faithful God.  Part of the process of growing as a child of God is being in situations that teach us we are not the master of our universe.  It is here, we learn to trust the One who can make anything happen.  

Our security in God’s unlimited loving patience redefines all our relationships.  We now have God’s approval, who is transforming us, so we can love others the way we’ve been loved.  We’re set free, not needing human approval or insisting anyone meet our needs or conform to our expectations.  We let others have their own journey; giving them the same freedom God gives us.  Loving others effectively means we’ve been loved extravagantly, which is impossible to keep to ourselves.  We might find ourselves in circles some call the wrong crowd, but we’re confident in the life changing power of God’s love.  We trust if something or someone needs to change, God can and will make that happen in them or us. Glasses on head

Living in the security of God’s love might cause us to think, “I’m not like this.”  Yet we are, we always have been.  We just did not recognize it while we were at the helm.  We were like that person in Thomas Merton’s parable that rode around on an ox looking for his ox; anxiously surveying the terrain trying to find something which he already had.  It is the ancient parallel of looking for glasses while they sit on top of your head.

Coming to really know we’ve been saved by grace opens us up to be more like Jesus who welcomed the outcast.  When we err on the side of loving those in the wrong crowd, we err like Jesus did in Simon’s home; holding close the outcasts who are forgiven. (Luke 8) We may be in the wrong crowd, but this is the place to encounter the grace of our amazing God. 

Published in: on June 10, 2013 at 12:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

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