john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK



    Luke 7: Luke 7 - The passion of a woman forgiven first

    Good Shepherd Morning Prayer, 13/6/2010

    Galatians 2.15-end , Luke 7.36-8.3


    How is your passion for Jesus?

    No doubt that Jesus aroused great passions in the people he met. His closest disciples, who gave up everything they had before, to follow him. The crowds who jostled and fought to get close to him in the hope of a healing. Even those who became his enemies - the establishment figures who Jesus shook up so much they pursued him and plotted his downfall - with a passion. And most of all maybe, the women who got close to him.

    Today's gospel reading mentions a number of women who got close to Jesus: 'Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out; Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources'; and the unnamed woman at the heart of the gospel story -'a woman in the city, who was a sinner', who fell at Jesus' feet at the meal table of Simon the Pharisee, and '[bathed] his feet with her tears and [dried] them with her hair', who 'continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment'.

    What passion she and all these women showed.
    What passion - for a man who had changed their lives so completely.
    What passion - for a man who had shown them so much love.
    What passion - for a man who had forgiven them even before they asked him to.

    How passioniately these women felt about Jesus is expressed so well in the words of this song from Jesus Christ Superstar...

    [Listen to 'I don't know how to love him' from Jesus Christ Superstar]
    I don't know how to love him.
    What to do, how to move him.
    I've been changed, yes really changed.
    In these past few days, when I've seen myself,
    I seem like someone else.

    I don't know how to take this.
    I don't see why he moves me.
    He's a man. He's just a man.
    And I've had so many men before,
    In very many ways,
    He's just one more.

    Should I bring him down?
    Should I scream and shout?
    Should I speak of love,
    Let my feelings out?
    I never thought I'd come to this.
    What's it all about?
    Don't you think it's rather funny,
    I should be in this position.
    I'm the one who's always been
    So calm, so cool, no lover's fool,
    Running every show.
    He scares me so.

    I never thought I'd come to this.
    What's it all about?

    Yet, if he said he loved me,
    I'd be lost. I'd be frightened.
    I couldn't cope, just couldn't cope.
    I'd turn my head. I'd back away.
    I wouldn't want to know.
    He scares me so.
    I want him so.
    I love him so.
    Now that song - a passionate song of a woman's strong and complicated love for Jesus - Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber attribute to Mary Magdalene. It fits her story well. But it's become one of the best known and most sung West End show songs ever, because there is something in it which most of us relate to.

    'I don't know how to love him,' we say, believing that Jesus has really changed us for the better, changed us for good, but just don't know the best way to respond.

    'What's it all about?' we ask, understanding in our hearts that Jesus has done something wonderful for us and to us, but finding it hard to work it all out in our heads, or explain it to others.

    Many of us share the reluctance of the singer in the song:
    Should I bring him down?
    Should I scream and shout?
    Should I speak of love,
    Let my feelings out?
    - because we are unsure of what others will say about us if we express our feelings for Jesus so openly and enthusiastically.

    Many of us are worried about losing control of ourselves if we give ourselves completely to Jesus, like the singer who sang:
    I'm the one who's always been
    So calm, so cool, no lover's fool,
    Running every show.
    He scares me so.
    And many of us, drawn to Jesus who is such an attractive person, but at the same time repelled by him who makes such difficult demands on us and refuses to let us live conventionally, share the confusion of the singer in the song when she says,
    He scares me so.
    I want him so.
    I love him so.
    We each of us respond to Jesus in our own way, sometimes passionately. More often, we find ourselves responding to Jesus more quietly, a bit reluctantly, perhaps, ashamed to seem too passionate about him and what he means to us.

    How is your passion for Jesus today?

    Whatever your answer to that - and it may be complicated and difficult to express - you can be sure of this: that Jesus has a passion for you; and it is strong.

    Jesus has a passion for you, because you have come to him. You have come to him in prayer today, as you have done so often before [or as you have not done for a long time]. And to each person who comes to Jesus, seeking forgiveness, he brings blessings unimagined.

    The woman who broke so many rules of polite society by gatecraching Simon's respectable dinner party, washing Jesus' feet with her tears, drying them with her hair and anointing them with precious ointment - Jesus approved her behaviour and celebrated her faith.

    Simon, the respectable religious man was shamed by this.

    He was the host at the dinner party but Jesus told him it was the woman at the foot of the table who had made him welcome.

    He was the respectable one and she the sinner but Jesus told Simon it was she who could teach Simon a thing or two about how to show thankfulness to God.
    '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.'
    'Your faith has saved you; go in peace,' he said to the woman. And Jesus left Simon to ponder whether it was enough to be polite and respectable before the Son of God, or whether he required something more direct and from the heart. More passionate.

    This connects us with the words of Paul to the Galatian believers:
    ... we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.
    We aren't made right with God by behaving politely and respectably before him, like Simon the Pharisee and so many millions of religious people before and since.

    We are made right with God by faith in Christ - who we love because he loved us first; who we love greatly because he has forgiven us greatly first.

    We aren't made right with God by obeying the rules of the church and of society, however well-meant and important-sounding all these rules may be.

    We are made right with God by understanding that he has compassion for us in all our pain and suffering, that he knows our struggles and loves us all the more when he sees that we want him to struggle with us and live in our hearts. Paul puts this perfectly when he says,

    I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.

    How is your passion for Jesus today? It might be strengthened by this one simple truth: that you have been forgiven even before you ask forgiveness.

    It is amazing to realise that, like the woman in the story - like all those other women who populate the stories of Jesus in the gospels - he has forgiven us even before we ask.

    She knew in her heart that Jesus had forgiven her even before she'd asked, and that's why she acted so passionately towards him, not knowing how to love him, but taking a chance by gatecrashing a polite dinner party with a jar of beautiful perfume and her hair and her tears.

    May we grasp the glory and the grace of Jesus' forgiveness so fully that - like the woman in the story - we cannot help but explode in passion for Jesus, and in our own way, in our daily walk with him, may we allow ourselves to find our own ways of thanking him for his great love.