Mediation on This Sunday's Gospel
by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, June 13, 2010:
First Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26--12:10, 13-15
First Reading (Semi-cont.): 1 Kings 21:1-10 [11-14] 15-21a
Psalm: Psalm 32
Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 5:1-8
Second Reading: Galatians 2:15-21
Gospel: Luke 7:36--8:3
In our day, Pharisees have come to have a bad name as the rigid, judgmental Jews who didn't recognize the greatness of Jesus. It's important to realize that in many ways, they were the most devout of the Jews, not just religious officials who kept rigidly to hollow rules and restrictions, as Christians often paint them. In his book, The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson notes, "They had the best track record in Palestine. They had historically proven their sincerity and loyalty to the demands and promises of God wonderfully. They were the strongest and most determined party of resistance to the ways of the world, represented in Herod. . . . There was much to admire in the Pharisees. Every Jew owed a debt of gratitude to the Pharisees for keeping Jewish identity alive" (212).
It's important to remember that the Pharisees were rigid about rules and regulations because they thought the way to God led them to follow that route. They weren't being judgmental and exclusionary out of meanness. No, they thought the future of the faithful depended on right action. It might be worth examining our own individual behavior and the behavior of the church both as an individual group and a larger institution--where do we see ourselves? How might we be the Pharisee in the story?
Those of us who have grown up in the church (or who have been attending church for many decades) forget the radical nature of this story. We have this vision of Jesus that no matter where he went, people were swept away by his message and washed his feet or poured oil on his head.
This woman was an outcast, marginalized in so many ways. We don't know the nature of her sin (the fact that she was a woman in a deeply patriarchal society would have been damning enough), but we know the fact that Jesus allowed her to touch him was profoundly shocking to the Pharisee. Jesus uses this encounter to teach about love and forgiveness.
Today's Gospel also reminds us of how religious people can be so blind to the sacred as it appears in our midst. We religious people forget that the God of our Judaic-Christian scripture is most often found in communities of the poor, destitute, and outcast. We prefer to stay in our sanitary structures, to not let the poor and destitute trespass in our hearts. In doing so, we're likely to miss out on a deeper relationship with God.
People who are part of institutionalized religious structure face dangers that we often forget to understand. We lose ourselves in rules and regulations; we create a rigid hierarchy to help us determine who is holy and who is a sinner. It's so easy to forget that our central task is to love deeply and widely. Jesus comes to tell us strange parables so that we'll remember. Jesus comes to show us a way to live that will be a way of love and far-flung community. Jesus comes to give his life, to show us that the way of love is such a threat to the larger culture of empire and conquest that we can expect the same. But God incarnate in Jesus comes to show us that the risks are worth the reward.