Lectionary Reflection: Luke 7: 36-48 Respond to the Lord?

            Jennifer’s wedding was lovely.  It was fun, or maybe delightful is a better word.  It was so well designed no one went through any awkward moments.  Everything flowed, from the ceremony to the end of the evening.  Lovely, wonderful, and … expensive.  It was extravagant, and more than once I wondered why these two young people, who had been with each other for eight years, did not just sneak off in the middle of the night and do the deed.  I thought, if that money was invested in a house and they would have something to show for it in the years to come.  But no.  That is not how we do things.

            We are extravagant.  We are as extravagant as the woman with the perfume worth a whole year’s wages who interrupted a dinner party to anoint Jesus’ feet with the scent and her tears.

            My sister had such a wedding, ages ago.  (Don’t tell her I said ages ago).  It was held at the country club.  One of two at the time that was approved to hold the US Open golf tournament.  The grooms were not the only ones in tuxedos.  Most of the guests wore tuxes as well  The head of Merryll Lynch International was there.  In fact, the room seemed full of CEOs and CFOs.  It was hard to tell, though, because my sister had everyone in masks, like some masquerade ball in the palace of Versailles.  It was very extravagant.

            My sister came to Jennifer’s wedding.  She flew down and brought my mother who is still struggling with the results of her stroke.  It was good to see them; and yes, my mother is doing well.  She is the stubborn and determined type – traits that serve her very well in the circumstances.

            Now, brother Tom, on the other hand, had what appeared on the surface to be a rather casual wedding.  There were no tuxedos in sight.  But then, he rented an entire health spa in California.  In fact, he and the entire wedding party went skinny-dipping in the natural sulfur hot springs just hours before getting dressed in their jeans and flannel shirts for the ceremony.  My Aunt Jean, my wife and Jennifer in her baby carriage came to visit me on the smoker’s bridge – the only place on the grounds were a person was begrudgingly allowed to smoke.  Aunt Jean’s comment about the naked swimmers that could only be seen in the distance was, “Not my idea of a wedding.”  But don’t be fooled by the casual description of the event.  In its own way, it was just as extravagant and expensive.

            Brother Tom came all the way from Alaska for Jennifer’s wedding.  He brought his son Ethan, who had just graduated high school, and his daughter Emily, who had just graduated from Stanford in California.  It was good to see my brother and the two natural results of an extravagant wedding.

            Skipping over my wedding, which was in a church, and the reception was in a place my wife’s Italian father picked out, which might have been called Luigi’s, but it was good, and it was expensive in its own way; but Jennifer’s wedding was great.  It was the wedding she wanted.  And everything went off without a problem, so much so that my wife suggested Jennifer go into the wedding planning business.  A very different attitude from the panic she showed the week before.

            Now, in this morning’s passage in Luke we have an example of extravagance that shocks the poor Pharisee, Simon, on several levels.  The woman is a whore, but apparently a successful one considering she had the money to buy such expensive perfume.  But here I am talking about weddings, except actually, I m trying to underline the extravagance of it all.  It is what we do.  We spend to no end on weddings – on a one-time event which offers no guarantees for the future.  Sadly, the success of the future marriage is not determined by how extravagant the wedding is.  But we do it because it is what is important to us.  It was important to Jennifer to have things a certain way, and while she is naturally a frugal person, the cost was not the issue.

            This woman also had something important to her.  She knew who she was, that her life was in ruins, that her life was unacceptable to God, and that in Jesus she was forgiven for all of it.  This was her way of showing gratitude.  She was thankful, and her tears were no doubt tears of joy.

            I used to think, and often read, that when the Great Awakening happened in this country, in the 1700s, almost before the preacher began to speak, people in the pews began to weep and cry out to God for their terrible, sinful lives, and for fear of Hellfire and brimstone.  Now, I am not so sure that was true.  Oh, I believe the Holy Spirit busted down the doors of people’s natural self-defense, and the people got to see just exactly how wretched and sinful they actually were, something that alludes almost all of us almost all of the time, but I don’t believe they cried because they feared damnation.  If the preacher was worth his salt, I imagine they cried like this woman – to know that all of that was forgiven, taken away, not held to their account.  Suddenly they were free of it all, thanks to Jesus, and they could not help but cry for joy and gratitude for their salvation. 

            Simon the Pharisee, who thought his life was more or less on target with God and who was offended by the woman’s presence, didn’t get it.  Jesus was glad to explain it to him.  That made me think.  We can be so extravagant with regard to our children, our loved ones.  How then should we respond to the one who grants us such grace and love?  How well do we respond to forgiveness?  How well do we respond to the one who grants us salvation, even eternal life?  It is a fair question.

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