This Week's Focus -  "Holier-than-Thou"  
     Click Link for Luke 7:36-8:3


Dear Friends,

I can remember as a kid what a great comfort it was to live on the same street as a legendary neighborhood ne’er-do-well. Whatever my transgressions, they always paled in comparison to the misadventures of that wild kid down the block. And this convenient reference point always made it much easier to inflate my self-worth and go on to claim at least partial immunity for my own comparatively minor misdemeanors. Over the years, most of us have retained and even improved on this sort of self-serving, peripheral vision.

For all of us, there is a certain, secret satisfaction knowing that there is a bigger sinner, somewhere… down the street, around the corner or at the next desk. But God is not a game show host. He does not measure our worth relative to the other contestants. The Father made us, knows us and loves each one of us individually with infinite intensity. Jesus went to the cross for every single one of us. We are his beloved. And in his eyes, every one of us was worth Calvary. And that’s the way he wants us to see our neighbors, especially the least among us.

In this week’s gospel, this is a lesson that continues to elude the master of the house. He is a Pharisee: successful, prosperous and pleased with himself… so much so, that he is comfortable in criticizing Jesus for having anything to do with a person he judges to be “a fallen woman.” To Jesus this is a teachable moment, for the proud Pharisee, the penitent woman, the assembled guests and for generations of Christians to come.

Once again, Jesus pulls back the curtain and shows us the nature of God… explaining what we can expect from God and what God expects from us. He dispels the myth of God as the auditor and avenger of sin. He reveals God as the font of love.

We were created to be vessels of that love. But when we turn from God’s purpose, when we deny his love, we fill the void with pride and all the rot that follows. As this gospel illustrates, the proud… the holier-than-thou… are at high risk of becoming the pitiful, the self-deluded, the least holy of all.

Jesus spells it out for us in the simplest terms possible. And to make sure we get the point… he even puts the words in our mouths: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Our need for mercy… our need to show mercy… is a fundamental tenet of our hope for salvation. Jesus shows us that the love of God is not some gauzy ephemeral feeling. It is paid out in the hard currency of mercy… both receiving and dispensing… both forgiving and being forgiven.

Is there any one among us who has no need for forgiveness? Obviously, not. Then clearly we all have need to forgive. But some truths, no matter how obvious, are completely obscure when we are blinded by pride… when we reflexively measure our worth relative to others… when we become the arbiters of right and wrong… when we equate virtue with our opinion… when we dole out our good will on a strictly transactional basis. 

In this brief parable Jesus equates sinners with debtors and God’s forgiveness of sin with the absolution of debt. Some of us have more sins to forgive and consequently more reason to be grateful for forgiveness. God does not ration out his love to the righteous. He rejoices in the cry of the fallen. He pours his healing love on the penitent. And make no mistake, sooner or later, we all need God’s forgiveness. So let’s learn from the penitent woman. Let’s throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus. If we come to him in love, in humility, in remorse… we already know his answer: Because you believed, you are saved from your sins. Go in peace.

God love you!

A Reflection for The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 12, 2016

©The Reverend David F. Sellery
St. John’s Church, Salisbury, Connecticut

Copyright © 2016 David Sellery, All rights reserved.

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