A woman at the airport waiting to catch her flight bought herself a bag of cookies, settled in a chair in the airport lounge and began to read her book. Suddenly she noticed the man beside her helping himself to her cookies. Not wanting to make a scene, she read on, ate cookies, and watched the clock. As the daring "cookie thief" kept on eating the cookies she got more irritated and said to herself, "If I wasn't so nice, I'd blacken his eye!" She wanted to move the cookies to her other side but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. With each cookie she took, he took one too. When only one was left, she wondered what he would do. Then with a smile on his face and a nervous laugh, he took the last cookie and broke it in half.
He offered her half, and he ate the other. She snatched it from him and thought, "Oh brother, this guy has some nerve, and he's also so rude, why, he didn't even show any gratitude!" She sighed with relief when her flight was called. She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate, refusing to look at the ungrateful "thief." She boarded the plane and sank in her seat, reached in her bag to get a book to read and try to put the incident out of her mind. Next to her book was…. her bag—of cookies.
This woman was sure she knew who the bad person and who the good person was in this situation. She, the good person was horrified at the action of the “bad person.” How could that man be so rude? How could he be so bold to eat her cookies without even asking and without even thanking her?
Like this woman, the Pharisee who had invited Jesus to his house for dinner was sure he knew who the “good person” and who the “bad person” was in his house that day. After all, this Pharisee had committed his life to God. The term Pharisee literally meant – “separated ones.” The Pharisees had separated themselves from those who were “sinners” so that they would not be influenced by their sinful ways. As a Pharisee he had dedicated his life to studying and following God’s laws. The one thing the Pharisee knew was that he wasn’t a sinful person like this woman who had inappropriately invaded his home and who was now kissing and anointing Jesus’ feet.
Luke doesn’t tell us what sins the woman had committed, but it’s clear by the Pharisee’s thought “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” that her sins were known to the community. The Pharisee, who began our reading with a holier than thou attitude looking at the woman with disgust sure that she was the one that was outside God’s love, experiences one of Jesus’ famous turning of the tables. The “sinner” in the Pharisee’s eyes is forgiven by Jesus.
Most of us in this room have heard of Dennis the Menace. As you know, Dennis causes much trouble for his next-door neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, and yet Mrs. Wilson continues to be kind and gracious. One cartoon shows Dennis and his little friend Joey leaving Mrs. Wilson's house, their hands full of cookies.
Joey says, "I wonder what we did to deserve this."
Dennis answers: "Look, Joey, Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we're nice, but because she's nice."
Jesus forgives this woman not because of anything she has done, not because of her adherence to the laws and regulations like the Pharisee, not because she had separated herself from the effects of a sinful society, not because she anoints his feet, but because of God’s grace - because God loves God’s children.
The woman knew of her shortcomings and failures. She knew she wasn’t perfect. She knew she couldn’t fix things on her own so she went to the only place that she felt she could go – the feet of Jesus. At Jesus’ feet she receives forgiveness of all that has weighed her down throughout her life. She experiences the words that Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew chapter 11: “Come to me all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” She finds rest for her soul.
The Pharisee on the other hand, like the woman who was eating from the man’s bag of cookies in the airport, is oblivious to his own shortcomings. He is full of self-confidence that his actions and the way he has lived his life have earned him a place in God’s kingdom. The result of this way of thinking is a life lived under the heavy burden of the law placing the responsibility for his standing before God on his own shoulders. He has resigned himself to a restless life of attempting to achieve the unachievable rather than understanding the words of Paul to the people in Galatia that “no one will be justified by the works of the law.”
What about us? Who are we most like? Are we like the Pharisee living in denial of our shortcomings and placing ourselves on a pedestal above those other “sinners” unknowingly forcing ourselves to scramble through our lives binding ourselves to the burden of trying to be good enough so that God will love us?
Or are we like the sinful woman? Do we understand our imperfections and shortcomings? Do we understand that regardless of those imperfections God loves us as we are, that it’s not about how hard we try to follow the law, it’s about God’s grace, God’s unconditional love and forgiveness.
I think if we’re honest with ourselves sometimes we get it and sometimes we don’t. Because the world in which we live tells us that you can’t get anything worthwhile for free, we often find ourselves slipping back into the mode of thinking we have to earn our way into God’s Kingdom. In this mode, some will begin to make a list of the things they’ve done that might leave them outside of the “inner circle” and others will make the list of things they’ve done that ensure their place in God’s Kingdom. But this list making puts us right back under the burden of the law.
So, in those moments when you find yourself living your life under the burden of the law – when you slip back into the harried mode of feeling that if you just try hard enough you can measure up to what people have told you are God’s expectations for your life, remember what this woman discovered: that God loved her despite her failures and that because of this love, her sins, though many, were forgiven.
Remember that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are profound visible signs of the unconditional character of God’s love for each one of us. God love you and me. Not because we did ______ or didn’t do ______. God loves us period. And through this unconditional love we are offered a new life – a life that is free of the bonds of striving to earn God’s love – free of placing the burden of earning God’s love on our own shoulders. This new life frees us to spend our lives like this woman - showing great love to others out of thankfulness for God’s great love for us! Amen.