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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Real Housewives and A Real Jerk

2016-06-12 Lk 07 36 - 08 03

The Real Housewives and A Real Jerk

Reality TV has given us so much. So much sleaze. So much shouting. So many bachelors and bachelorettes, survivors, idols, voices, top gear, top chefs and top models. And Housewives. Not fake housewives. Real housewives. The Real Housewives of Orange County, New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Beverly Hills, Potomac, Dallas, and Sevierville. Maybe not Sevierville. Yet.

I'm not a big fan of reality. On TV or anywhere. Neither was Simon the Pharisee. Simon the Pharisee threw a simply marvelous dinner party. He invited Jesus as guest of honor. I think he wanted to see if Jesus was really real or really fake. But the party's over when Simon finds out it's not Jesus who's play-acting in this little dinner theater. Jesus puts Simon in his place. And Jesus gives the real disciple a place at the table and a place in God's house.


"Housewives." It sounds so 1950's, doesn't it? Like early television. Black and white. Well, mainly white. Almost exclusively white. Ward and Darren and person of green color Herman Munster went off to work while June, Samantha, and Lily did their little housey-wifey things. This was not Reality TV. We knew that. But when you only have three channels, you accept a soap- and cigarette-sponsored world.

I think Simon the Pharisee accepted his world, too. But he also wanted to test reality. He wanted to see if Jesus fit into his. Simon's world was pretty black and white. You were a servant, or you were served. You were sinful, or you were saved. You were a man at the table. Or you were something less. Everybody knew their place. Simon's question was, "Does Jesus have a place in MY world?"

At a 1st century dinner party, Your place as guest was preordained. The tables were arranged in a "U" pattern. The open end was for the servants to enter and leave with refills. The tables were low, just above floor level. You reclined for dinner. You stretched out on kind of a thin futon, with your left arm supporting you, and you ate and drank wine with your right hand. You curled your legs and bare feet behind you. This was how civilized people supped. It doesn't sound very comfortable to me. But then, La-z-boys weren't invented until 1927. Know what else was invented in 1927? Television. I kid you not. Coincidence? Or act of God?

Everybody in Simon the Pharisee's world knew their place. Simon knew everybody's place. Except for Jesus. Simon wasn't so sure about his place. But he'd find out. Let's tune in.


"We interrupt this program for a special news bulletin." Do those words make your stomach squeeze, too? What could possibly be so important that they're interrupting "As the World Turns"? Russians, right? Or when you're sound asleep and your phone goes off at 2am? Someone's died. Or they're going to. Or when your computer crashes right before you save your work? "Noooooooo!" Interrupting the program, interrupting YOUR program, whatever kind of program, is annoying - and sometimes it's scary. In the Bible, the woman who was a sinner was a program interruption. And if Simon thought the woman was only annoying, his stomach is about to get squeezed.

...a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that [Jesus] was eating in the Pharisee's house...

Ding dong. "Oh, hi. I was driving by and I saw through your window that you're having a dinner party and I was wondering if I could join you or maybe just make a to-go plate." Has this ever happened to you? Probably not. Have you ever done it to someone else? Heaven forbid!

But you don't live in Bible Times Theater. That's a real place in Pigeon Forge. In real Bible times, part of the theater of dinner parties was seeing who really did wander in off the street to get scraps the guests left behind. It was charity. And, entertaining. So, it wasn't completely unexpected that this woman who was a sinner would interrupt the program.

And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment.

She stood behind [Jesus] at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.

OK. What kind of woman carries around alabaster ointment jars and washes men's feet with her hair? A sinful one. Bible interpreters, not unlike TV producers, always lean toward the sleaze, especially with women. But this sinful woman could also have been "a liar, a thief, a cheat or any other type of sinner in her own right, or she might simply have been the wife of a man who was known to be immoral or the practitioner of any one of a number professions looked down upon as the breeding ground of dishonesty."[1] The Bible doesn't specify. Uppity, interrupting women are always called sinners. Or worse. Simon's brain just says out loud what everyone else is thinking.

Now when [Simon,] the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is...

Wow, Simon. Two judgmental put-downs in one thought. You don't have to be the Son of God to know when someone's judging you silently. Jesus gets it.

Now, remember this was long before cell phones so nobody had anything to stare at during dinner. People actually talked. I know. Weird. Witty repartee got good ratings. Clever riddles proved you got talent.

"So, Simon," said Jesus, "riddle me this:"

"A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them.

"Now which of them will love him more?"

Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." (Bully for you, old boy.)

But then, oh boy, Jesus does turn the tables.

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon,

Wait. Did you see what just happened there? Jesus is turning and speaking TO the woman, but he's wiping the floor with Simon -- without even looking.

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon,

"Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little."

Jesus is real. This woman is real. Simon is a fake and a real jerk. Boom. Reality hurts.


The irony of reality TV is that practically nothing about it is real. I think we know that. But it's what's on and it can be entertaining. The "Real Housewives" live in gated communities of corporate CEOs and professional athletes, their homes valued in the millions. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just that for 99% of us, it's not reality. It's not totally fake, but it's not totally real, either.

The same criticism gets aimed at church, too: That church isn't totally fake, but that it's not totally real, either. Pastor Mark Wingfield of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas recently wrote about this in a couple of blog posts that have gone real viral. He says,

In polite church culture, we have been conditioned to understand that it is dangerous to be our true selves at church — especially if we don't fit the image of a perfect Christian. We say, "Come as you are," but we really mean, "Come as WE are."

It's a bold thing for a pastor to say. And it gets even bolder once you know he was writing about how to understand transgender people. Put Simon's words in THIS context, and things get even more challenging.

"If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of 'woman' this is who is touching him...."

Yes, faithful people have been wrestling with gender issues for thousands of years. But the question requires churchgoing folks to cast our nets deeper and wider. How many people - of how many varieties - how many people even now could bathe the feet of Jesus with their tears, but are afraid to even enter the room, because of how others judge them?

The Bible turns the question back on us. Who and what kind of person are YOU?

When we admit the truth about ourselves, in reality, we know who and what kind of women and men we are. We know. We're sinners.

What kind of sinner? How bad of a sinner?

What's the difference?


"When I was a boy…" we only had three channels and you had to walk to the TV to change them. Yes, it was tough, but it made us strong. And everything was black and white.

It's a novelty to watch the old shows. It makes me nostalgic for simpler times. But that's not reality anymore, if it ever was.

The world is colorful. People are colorful. We come in all shades and sizes. We can spend our lives figuring out who and what kind we are. Sometimes our opinions match reality.

I can be so open-minded, so forgiving, so hospitable. I can also be a real jerk. Somedays I want to wash Jesus's feet and bring him my very best. Somedays I want him to hush up and go away. I'm colorful. It's hard to know what color the wheel's going to land on.

You see, Simon the Pharisee was wrong. He thought people were black and white. Jesus knew exactly who and what kind of woman that was. And he also knew who and what kind of man Simon was. He sat at the table with both of them.

Jesus knows who and what of people WE are, too. Colorful. Flawed. We try to act our best for him, but at best we're still actors. We try to show him our best, but often it's just that: a show. Not totally fake, but not totally real, either.

Jesus watches. Jesus sees. Jesus knows. Jesus forgives others for their sins, whether we like it or not. He forgives our sins, too. And then he calls us to follow him and do the same to others. Really.


[1] Ringe, Sharon, Luke, Westminster Bible Companion, WJK Press, 1995, p. 108.

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