Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Generous Women--Luke 7:36-8:3

Today is Celebrate the Gifts of Women Sunday, so we have readings today about women who gave to Jesus. Jay and I looked at our first story last week in Sunday School. We compared all four gospel readings. According to Matthew and Mark, the incident takes place on Holy Tuesday—the day before the first day of the Passover before Jesus was crucified. Matthew and Mark also say that the incident took place at the home of Simon the Leper. Here we learn that Simon is a Pharisee. He is actually one of many Pharisees who believed in Jesus. Perhaps Jesus had healed him of his leprosy.
In John’s gospel, the story takes place at Lazarus’s house and his sister Mary is named as the one who brings the ointment. It is Judas Iscariot who is named as the one questioning Mary’s actions. She is never called a sinner by John because she wouldn’t have been considered one. Nor would she have been poor. Lazarus was wealthy. Is John recording a totally different, but similar incident? Or did he get some facts confused? We don’t know, but today we are focusing on Luke’s account.
We know this nard was expensive—almost a year’s wages. Jay and I figured that it would take the average person over 20 years to save up a year’s wages considering things like housing, transportation, food, the costs of other necessities, and taxes.
I believe Simon is a genuine follower of Jesus. He invites Jesus to his home for a meal. Yet Simon, like many of us, still struggles with some of his old habits and hang-ups. Simon sees this woman as a sinner—someone that he wouldn’t want to be associated with, and yet this woman is free to come into his house. He doesn’t refuse her entry or kick her out, but he definitely has his opinions about her. In his mind, he is somehow “better” than this woman. Luke is the only gospel to record Jesus’s parable in response to Simon’s thoughts. And apparently, he wasn’t alone in his thinking, because Matthew and Mark add the disciples in there making judgments about the woman. Even committed followers of Jesus have prejudices from which we must repent. To whom do you feel superior? How is God calling you to treat this person/these people? Simon expresses gratitude to Jesus by having Him over, but Simon’s gratitude only goes so far. This woman expresses extreme gratitude to Jesus.
This woman also has extreme reverence for Jesus. Simon has gotten comfortable enough with Jesus that he has become almost too casual with Jesus. Simon calls Jesus, “Teacher,” which shows his respect for Jesus, yet he doesn’t take time to give common courtesy to Jesus by offering him water to wash His feet. Perhaps Simon expected Jesus to get the water for Himself. But this woman is not at all casual with Jesus. She, even in her wealth, puts herself in a humble position before her Lord. She cares for his feet first. Matthew and Mark mention the nard going on Jesus’ head. It probably did, but I doubt she started there. The woman also knew Jesus well enough to pay attention to the times that He said He was about to die. Jesus clearly says she is anointing Him for burial and that He will not be with them much longer. Again, this shows that Simon and the disciples, have gotten too casual with Jesus. Have we gotten too casual with Jesus that we have forgotten that He is our Lord as well as our Friend? Have we forgotten just how much Jesus has forgiven us that we only show mere tokens of gratitude? Have we gotten too casual with Jesus to take His Word seriously?
This woman knows how costly Jesus gift was to her. She was the one who had been forgiven much. She spent a year’s wages on one item for one person, and that person was Jesus. Can you even imagine spending a year’s wages on 1 item? Do we do anything extravagant for Jesus? It’s not that Simon or you or I haven’t been forgiven just as much as this woman. It’s whether or not we recognize it. This woman did. She acts in faith first even before Jesus openly declares her forgiven. This woman knows who she is and who Jesus is. She knows Jesus can forgive if He chooses. Perhaps in a previous encounter, she already knew that Jesus had forgiven her, but now the audience hears, not for her sake, but for theirs. Jesus wants the others to know that He has the authority to forgive sins—and sins of any type and any amount. When we see ourselves as we truly are, our gratitude will overflow, like this woman’s.
Jay said that if he had witnessed was this woman had done, he would have thought that her act was awesome, but he would’ve also thought that she was crazy. I would probably have thought the same thing. But what about our actions…Would anyone call us crazy for Jesus?
Who was this woman? We don’t know. There have been many speculations—John says Mary of Bethany. She could have afforded the nard, but she wouldn’t have been considered a sinful woman. Some say Mary Magdalene, but Mary Magdalene is mentioned by name later in today’s text, so it probably wasn’t her. The term “sinner” and the reactions of the people could have indicated that this woman was a prostitute, so perhaps she was. The term “sinner” can also mean “debtor”—like the Lord’s prayer: “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” is “the same as forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” So perhaps she was poor and was spending her life savings—again showing extreme extravagance towards Jesus. And the attitude of her criticizers shows their haughtiness, but this is less likely since one of their excuses was that this money could have been given to the poor. All we know is that out of faith, gratitude, and love towards Jesus, flowing from a true knowledge of Him as well as knowledge of herself, this woman demonstrated extreme generosity.
We also have a short passage of other generous women—women who were disciples of Jesus that supported Him out of their own means. We have to remember that the entourage that followed Jesus was huge. It was more than just 12 men. There were many men and women who followed Jesus. There were many who named apostles. Contrary to Jewish custom, Jesus taught women. We have the example of Mary of Bethany who sat and listened at Jesus’s feet and was encouraged to do so. We have women who supported Jesus out of their own funds--some perhaps from wealthy families, others who worked. Yes, women did work in Jesus’s day. If you don’t think so, read Proverbs 31 more carefully. They just worked out of their homes—making things to sell in the marketplace, growing things.
In this list we have Mary Magdalene. Never in the gospels is Mary Magdalene called a prostitute. That is tradition, but never stated in Scripture. She has been assumed to be the unnamed woman caught in adultery in the gospel of John, but we don’t know. What we do know is that, “out of whom 7 demons were cast.” We are learning in our Revelation Bible study that 7 stands for completion. This woman was totally possessed. She knew her total depravity, and it certainly wasn’t doubted in anyone else’s mind either. Yet, Jesus had healed her and forgiven her. We have Joanna, who was probably wealthy since her husband was in charge of Herod’s household. Mary Magdalene and Joanna are mentioned again by name as witnesses to the resurrection. They had the incredible privilege of knowing this news first! Next we have Susanna, about whom we know almost nothing, and of course there were other unnamed women. What we do know is that these women were committed to Jesus, and it showed in their financial support of Him. Financial liberality is a mark of discipleship and is essential for the continuation of ministry. Hearers of God’s Word are involved in God’s mission. These women were hearers of God’s Word. Are you a hearer of the Word? How do your finances reflect your commitment to Jesus and His ministry?


Blogger Mar-see-ugh Sue-Flay said...

Cool post, LaVera - such a refreshing perspective on biblical women as active, intelligent contributors. I really enjoyed this.

March 10, 2010 at 7:23 PM


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