Lukan Perspectives: The Sinful Woman & The Good Samaritan


These stories which are unique to Luke give us a beautiful portrait of a prophet, teacher, and savior who knows our hearts, minds and whose love is universal. Here we see Jesus as one that focused on the introspection of the individual, sought out the outcast and the lost, was inclusive of women, brought peace in forgiveness, and who valued love over law, wealth and position. Although Jesus speaks to all, it is the outcasts, tax collectors, widows, and lepers who truly listen while the lawyers, Pharisees, and leaders are deaf to his words. While the intentions of the Pharisees in observing the laws and living a life of sacrifice had value, they sought a life of total perfection. In doing so, they were unable to see past the imperfections not only in others but in themselves and the full extent of God’s love. Therefore, the meaning within these stories is so crucial for our own faith lives today.   For if we have all the faith in the world yet lack love, mercy and compassion we have nothing.

In the story of the Sinful Woman, Luke paints two contrasting character portraits of lives of faith. What began as a dinner invitation at the home of Simon the Pharisee, is both a moment of healing for the sinful woman, and of disconnection and judgment by Simon. The reason behind Simon’s invitation to Jesus could have been one of curiosity, or perhaps simply the honor in hosting the prophet. Whatever the reason, it is clear that Simon hasn’t invested his time or energy in providing Jesus with the full extent of his hospitality. When the woman appears, we learn that she takes the place behind Jesus, yet brings the very best that she has to offer- that of her desire to serve, heartfelt repentance and love.

This woman would not have been intentionally invited, yet she made the difficult decision to come regardless. Knowing that she would suffer the comments and stares of those present to begin her life of faith and service. We are drawn in by this intimate scene with the woman weeping, kissing and wiping his feet with her hair and pouring perfumed oil on the feet of Jesus. While Simon, sits and inwardly judges both the woman and Jesus questioning why Jesus would ever allow this sinner to even touch him if he were truly a prophet. What Simon questions, the sinful woman has accepted on faith. Still, Jesus challenges Simon to see this woman and her situation properly, and learn from her desire for forgiveness and faithful example. Finally, there is a peace that comes with the forgiveness and salvation found by the sinful woman that Simon is unable to know.

With the story of the Good Samaritan, Luke presents a challenge from a man of the law who is seeking to justify his own actions rather than truly wanting the answer on love and neighbor. First, we see how the fulfilling the demands of purity and ritual keep both the priest and Levite from fulfilling the greater command of love. Make no mistake, however, they each had a choice in their decision as Jesus clearly points out. With the Samaritan we find that the one who had the most to lose, and least to gain took the greatest risk in showing compassion beyond that which could have been expected. This time, Jesus challenges the questioner to see the mercy shown by the Samaritan, not as an encapsulated story but within the infinite mercy shown towards us by God. The Samaritan exemplified the point for Jesus that God’s love goes beyond the letter of the law, race, religion or position in society, for his love is without limits and universally extended to all.

Today, in many of our churches we still have “faithful” that seek to limit God’s love, mercy and promise of salvation. This is expressed with judgmental glances, third party conversations,  and an obvious misunderstanding of the sacrament of reconciliation. Witnessed also in the shallow perspective that compassionate action towards others  remains charity instead of inherent calls to justice. For, we who have been given much, much more is expected. God’s love is not reduced  because there are more at the table, but rather his Kingdom grows with every soul who takes seriously the greatest commandment.

Peace,

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Ethics as Improvisation

 

Image result for samuel wells improvisationWells, The Drama of Christian Ethics: Improvisation. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004. pp. 236. pb. ISBN 1-58743-071-1.

Using the backdrop of the five act play, Wells imaginatively interprets the Christian community as players incorporated through baptism as part of the 4th act. Then the community, in anticipating the 5th act, is invited to faithful improvisation through nurturing trust, and joyful cooperation within God’s larger drama. Christian ethics then becomes that continual improvisational response to the new and challenging situations that arise.

 Common mistakes made within narrative drama:

Only viewing it as one act, seeing oneself as either creator/savior, living in the end of the drama, and failing to live as witness to Christ’s life (pp 55-57).

 Improvisation:

The invitation to faithfully and joyfully respond to our purpose as Christians having been formed through scripture, as a community of faith, and through continual discernment (pp. 65-66).

 Overaccepting:

A way of welcoming a gift without hindering the potential for transformation, or accepting it as is. Instead we look to see the potential usefulness of the gift and importance (p.131).

 Reincorporation:

seeking to reintegrate the events/voices of the story that have been lost or neglected in the past and seeing their potential for renewal and transformation of the future (p.147).

Throughout these readings by Wells, there is an exquisite thread of reconciliation present in every act of his understanding of the theological narrative. We are a people created with a purpose, to be in relationship with our creator, sharing in God’s magnificently creative love story. Yet, inevitably we have misunderstood our role, either underplaying or overplaying our involvement. While Wells, places God center of the drama, he calls us forth to draw on the own participation as well as the untapped potential of the discarded “material” and past experiences of the supposed minor actors. The call to faithfully improvise is not to create something from nothing, or be “original” but to seek as a community to reclaim and re-purpose the gifts and resources that God has given us.

It is with eyes and ears looking towards the past, and open hearts and arms in the present, and feet progressing “backwards” into the future that we as a church are called to await the 5th act. This openness allows us to receive a gift, even an unwanted one and see its potential transformation, as well as our own, through God’s grace. Yet, it isn’t simply the gift of another that is to be overaccepted and repurposed, but the very material and experiences of our own lives. Rather than blocking and discarding these unwanted experiences, or accepting them as a given, we are called to see these challenges as a means for God’s potential transformation and our own growth.

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