I sat half way back for my cousin’s funeral earlier this week. Normally, like many of you, I am up front, so it was a gift to experience this very different perspective. It was easier than I would have thought just to sit back and receive the gifts of the day. In fact, it was a blessing to hear the good news of God’s promises proclaimed by another. It was more than that though. For from where I was sitting I was able to hear and see this week’s Gospel lived out in a particular way.
Seated right in front of me was a young couple with two children. A four year old was sitting on his mother’s lap just bursting with energy, no doubt entirely unable to comprehend the grief carried by those around him. We were past the sermon and before the prayers when the soloist began to sing “Jesus Loves Me.”
It happened to be a favorite of my cousin’s. It is a tune, a song, a message we all know by heart. It is one we all sing loud and clear in my congregation when it is part of our Sunday worship. As the soloist began to sing this little boy’s head popped up. When he came to the chorus, he joined in, his crystal clear child’s voice serving as a beautiful accent to the bass voice coming from the back.
I expect everyone in the place heard it. I imagine many of us smiled to hear it — this child’s spontaneous, unselfconscious expression of the faith which had been passed along to him. We found ourselves glad in a sad moment to be so blessed. And yes, in some ways he reminds me of the woman with the alabaster jar in our story from Luke’s Gospel this week. Like her, it was as though he could not contain the song within him. Even as a youngster it was clear that his relationship with Jesus was sure and strong. He had known the gifts of God and all he could do was respond with what he had. He had a song to give. The woman in the story before us now had her tears, her tenderness in drying his feet with her hair, and the ointment in her jar.
In some ways that little boy is much like the woman in this story and in others he is so very different — not in the faith expressed but in our willingness to receive it in kindness and joy. A child can laugh or cry or sing and while, when done at a time that is inappropriate by some standards, we accept it. For he is just a child. She is just a little girl. But once we are grown. and especially if our reputations are less than sterling — well, then, the rest of us may not find ourselves able to see beyond our preconceived notions of what is acceptable. Such spontaneous outbursts may make us uncomfortable in the extreme. We don’t know how we should respond. And we find ourselves uncertain as to to what to do with the unexpected responses of anger or shame or fear or just plain discomfort which rise up inside us. I expect we would do well to take the time to take another look at where those strong reactions come from within us.
And so this is the gift and the wonder of the story before us now. It pushes me, perhaps it pushes all of us, to put ourselves in the shoes of the Pharisee who is hosting the party now and to wonder how we might have responded. For if I am honest, I am not at all certain I would have been any different. I, too, prefer things to move ahead as expected — especially if I am ‘hosting’ the party. I, also, would probably be shocked to discover someone of such disrepute in my home. I expect I would have to force myself to ‘think again’ if I were to see Jesus respond with such kindness to one such as her. And yet in my ‘thinking again’ I can hope that I would see her as I saw that little boy earlier this week — singing the chorus to “Jesus Loves Me” with all his heart. For clearly he sang because he already knew Jesus. He sang because he had experienced Jesus’ love for him. He sang because it was all he had to give. I smiled at that expression of faith. Why would I not smile to see it in anyone else?
Indeed, perhaps the gift and the wonder of this story is also that it pushes me to put myself in the shoes and the experience of the woman with the alabaster jar and to wonder at what it was that caused her to bathe her his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. To wonder at how Jesus had already touched and shaped her life to draw such a response from her. Oh yes, perhaps I am then compelled to wonder as well why I’m not also singing Jesus Loves Me aloud with all my heart, giving what I have: my tears, my tenderness, my emptied alabaster jar to show my gratitude.
- Where do you find yourself entering the story before us now? Can you understand the Pharisee? Do you relate to the woman with the alabaster jar?
- If the woman in the story here were to enter your home or your place of worship and behave in this way, if you are honest, how might you respond?
- Has she, in fact, already arrived in some other form? How have you met her?
- What in your life of faith would cause you to respond to Jesus with tears of gratitude?