The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Episcopal Church
RCL Year C - 4 Pentecost (Proper 6) - June 16, 2013
Doors are interesting things… Yes, I am talking about those things with the knob and the hinges… They are gateways to other places, portals to rooms or spaces that contain things known or unknown. Sometimes we even use doors to hide the messiness of our lives. I can remember when I was young, when I was told to clean my room, I thought I was really doing something by putting everything in the closet and closing the door. Needless to say, the closet door was just a cover up that allowed me put off the inevitable. It helped me hide that which was undone.
Beverly Braine spent all this past week cleaning up some of the stuff that was hidden behind the doors in our preschool. She has uncovered things that we didn’t know we had, and things that we forgot we had. As for me, since I have been at Trinity, I have found many things at Trinity hidden behind doors…
The staff knows, as most of you know that I exercise what some call an open-door policy, which means, if my door is open, it is ok to come in. However, if my door is closed, I usually can’t be or don’t want to be disturbed (which is extremely rare).
The gospel lesson this week made me think a lot about doors… about why we have them, and about why we don’t have them - about why Kathleen’s office door sometimes sticks, and about which ones we keep open, and which ones we keep locked, and even which ones we keep a camera fixed on because of the dangerous evils in our society.
Homes in ancient Palestine didn’t have many doors… not in the way that we have doors. There were entryways that one could close off, but that was rare… Because it prevented the movement of air through the space and closed off the light.
This made the homes subject to different kinds of intrusions from all sorts and conditions of folks and sometimes even animals… That’s the situation in the gospel lesson that we are faced with this morning. We don’t know why Simon the Zealot invites Jesus to his house to eat, but you can better bet that he was up to something…
Jesus goes to Simon’s home, and as they were taking their places, reclining at the table, a strange woman wanders into the house and begins to anoint Jesus’ feet with an alabaster jar of ointment. Then she begins crying and starts to bathe his feet with her tears and dry his feet with her hair.
The people at Simon’s dinner party find themselves in a strange predicament… I can’t help but think, what would we do in this day and age if we went over someone’s house to eat and ended up with a strange woman coming in and anointing our feet with oil? We would most likely call the police! Yet, this intrusion didn’t seem to faze Jesus.
Jesus must have known what Simon was thinking… Simon wanted to challenge Jesus on his prophetic abilities, and uses the predicament with the woman to do that. But he hadn’t said anything yet… but he was thinking, “if this man were truly a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.” Jesus then must have been reading his mind, because he tells Simon a wonderful short parable of forgiveness using a story about a creditor that had two debtors… one that owed 500 denarii and one that owed 50 denarii – and the creditor cancelling the debts for both of them. Jesus asks Simon, who loved more and Simon rightly answered the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.
Then it seems that Jesus gets pretty bold, and admonishes Simon for not offering the expected cultural courtesies that would be expected… water for the feet, oil for the hair, and a greeting with the kiss of shalom. Jesus, who was just a dinner guest, then compared Simon’s lack of hospitality with the great hospitality offered by the strange woman.
Though Jesus doesn’t say it within the text of the parable, we know that Jesus is talking about the woman who was just crying all over his feet. He knows what “kind” of woman she is. Yet she showed her deep love for Jesus, and to the astonishment of the gathering there at the table, Jesus tells her that her sins are forgiven.
A woman wonders into the home of a Pharisee, Simon the Zealot, and Jesus uses this strange predicament to teach about love and forgiveness, about openness and responsiveness, and about humility and shame. All this happened because the door was open, and this unnamed woman was received without question.
What would we have done, we would have probably called the police… Yet, Jesus allows her to show her love and her faith with her actions while he remains receptive and vulnerable. The woman has been shamed by society, yet Jesus lets her come to him, and without fear or condition, forgives her on the spot.
All the people that were gathered for dinner at Simon’s house were amazed that Jesus, just a dinner guest to them, assumes divine authority and forgives her sins. And all this was possible because the door was left open. There was no need for the police, no fear in their hearts, and nothing keeping Jesus from claiming his true divine identity.
The story has many layers and many dimensions, and sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the details. Keeping my eye on the open door has personally helped me focus on God’s radical love and forgiveness that is expressed in today’s reading. See, the physical barrier of a door — as thick or as paper-thin as it may be — not only muffles the communication on both sides, but it often closes us off to what may enrich us.
Keeping doors closed may seem like the best way to keep ourselves safe and our actions private, but if do it too often, we may find that we’ve missed out on a lot of important and wonderful things happening on the other side. But it’s hard for us to keep the doors open. The fear and the exposure and the vulnerability and danger in our society is sometimes way too much for us to deal with.
So, we don’t invite in as we should, and we often lock the door to keep people out… the door then is not only a physical barrier, but it becomes an impediment to our own formation and forgiveness.
I’d be one of the first to admit, if a woman (or anyone for that matter) wondered in here and started anointing my feet and then crying on them and drying them with hair that would give me the heebie-jeebies. By not welcoming them, though, I would really missed out on the opportunity to be Christ to them, to let the experience change both me and them.
In Jesus’ time, doors were open, and you never knew what was going to happen. Crowds gather, a woman walks in a sinner, and loves much, and walks out forgiven and renewed. The doors are open to us, and we are transformed as God’s people, forgiven and renewed, and then nourished and empowered to serve others. It’s what being Christian is about, it about living with open doors in our lives and letting the power of the divine Holy Spirit work through us – letting us be Christ to others.
God’s love is radical and changes lives. The strange woman with the alabaster jar joins the company of all of us who want to live in love and serve Jesus. The broken and flawed folks like us become a means of grace for the glory of God. It makes us all part of the wonderful story, God’s continuing story. The only thing required of us is having an open door and being ready to receive. This is neither pleasant nor easy. It involves a change in our attitude and ultimately a change in our actions.