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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Parable of the Two Debtors

This week's reading:  Luke 7:  36-50

We have so much to think about in this reading, and the parable takes up a very tiny part of it.  It seems one of the more straightforward parables:  two men, two debts, one of which is bigger than the other, and which one is more grateful for debt relief?

The parable is embedded in a larger story about how the contemporaries of Jesus treat him.  We have a woman who lives a sinful life, but she's the one who treats Jesus with the most hospitality, washing his feet (presumably filthy from weeks of walking through the muck that would have been the highway system) with her tears and anointing him with perfume.

A woman who lives a sinful life is even lower in status than a regular woman--and all women would have been low on the status list in this ancient patriarchal culture.  But she's the one who treats Jesus best.

Simon hasn't offered Jesus the simplest hospitality of water to wash his feet.  The names can be confusing.  At first, I thought we were talking about Simon Peter.  But I think that this Simon is actually the name of the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner.

Given the history of Jesus and the Pharisees, we can assume that it wasn't a simple dinner invitation.  I assume that this Pharisee was looking for ways to indict Jesus.  And when Jesus lets a sinful woman touch him, the Pharisee thinks he's found the evidence he seeks.

Jesus takes this opportunity to remind Simon--and us--of the larger reality, 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.

Jesus also comes to remind us that we're all debtors.  Some of us have a heavier load, and the relief of our burdens is greater.  But in the admonishment to the Pharisee, some of us might hear the relevant message that we've all got a burden.  And Jesus comes to lift that burden.

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