Extravagant Hospitality

It is ironic, or perhaps one of God’s little jokes, that every three years, near or on what we call Fathers Day, we get a gospel story about a woman who breaks the rules and ministers to Jesus.
Luke tells us that she joins a list of women important to Jesus’ life and work.
I have been doing some reading in the Jewish background of the Christian church. I’ve learned that some of what we think we know about our Jewish brothers and sisters has been colored, even tainted, by the anger toward them when Roman soldiers destroyed the Temple and Jews and Christians could no longer worship together. We became enemies. Families split because of the animosity of the two groups.
It is no wonder that the gospel writers said such hateful words about Jews. It was like a really bad divorce when no one can say a nice word about the other. As the church moved into the Gentile world, those hateful words caused such destruction!
Another thing that happened as the minds of Greek ideas took over from Jewish minds, like that of Jesus. Women, who were obviously important to Jesus as friends and supporters, were no longer worthy.
The early Christian hostility toward their Jewish families, and the Greek hostility toward women have colored the whole world ever since. I invite you to have those two ideas in mind as you read and listen to the Scriptures. And the daily news.
And, it was good to read that Pope Francis has elevated the day given to Mary Magdalene as a feast day. She deserves it.
Looking at today’s readings, we find God’s extravagant hospitality. That is the theme of today’s readings from Paul’s Letter and Luke’s Gospel. God’s extravagant hospitality.
I love the gospel stories about this dinner party. We always read the one from Luke close to Father’s Day, but I love them because they remind me of my grandmother whose birthday was about now. When I put a face on God, it is her face.
I’m so grateful that I get to remember her through these readings this weekend every three years. She was the most generous, loving, accepting, welcoming person I’ve known.
She lived God’s extravagant, generous, loving, accepting, welcoming hospitality. Luke shows us this in his story of a dinner party.
Jesus and other invited guests have come to the house of Simon the Pharisee for a meal and conversation as was the custom.
The guests, all men, were reclining on couches around a u-shaped table. Their feet were stretched out from the table.
As was also the custom, doors were left open so that passersby could see the party, and even come in to Simon’s house and sit along the wall as silent observers, watching and listening.
So the woman who came up behind Jesus and enacted her gratitude in an emotional and expensive way—she was not a party crasher. She had come in with a tacit invitation.
Simon is appalled. He recognizes this woman, and knows that she is a sinner. And here she was breaking cultural rules by approaching the honored guest this way, and especially by unbinding her hair. Women never did this in public.
Simon criticized her, but what he fails to recognize is that he is a sinner, too. He also does not realize that she knows herself to be forgiven, and she is thanking Jesus for this.
Her response to being forgiven is as extravagant as the forgiveness itself. With tears of joy she washes Jesus’ feet, and she unbinds her long hair to dry them.
She has a valuable alabaster jar filled with scented oil and with this she anoints Jesus’ feet in a prayer of “thank you, thank you, thank you.”
We know nothing about this unnamed woman except that she is overcome with joy and gratitude, and pours this out to Jesus. Simon thinks he knows her, thinks that she is a sinner and that her behavior is shocking. In other words, Simon thinks that he is better than this woman.
So, if you have been paying attention to Jesus, you know that he will do something to help Simon see the error of his thinking.
Jesus tells a parable to help Simon understand, but his heart is filled with his own importance and he does not get the message.
Like the rich young ruler in another story, who can’t accept that his material “stuff” is in the way of his relationship with God, Simon is filled with self-righteousness.
He doesn’t understand that this attitude is as much of a sin as anything he thinks about the woman. He doesn’t see that God’s extravagant grace is offered to everyone.
He doesn’t see that the woman’s extravagant gratitude shows that she does understand and has experienced this grace.
The woman is euphoric as she lives into her forgiveness. Simon is still his hard-hearted, self-satisfied and critical self. In the words of Jonathan Swift in 1711, he has “just enough religion to hate, not enough to love.”
The woman will go in peace, as Jesus invites her. Simon will not know such peace until he can accept God’s grace for himself as well as for her.
God’s extravagant hospitality—opening the kingdom to all who open their hearts and become the new creation as Christ lives in and through us.
Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia shows us God’s extravagant hospitality.
Paul writes that we are “justified not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”
That is generous enough on God’s part—but the reality is even better than that. Bible scholars now tell us that the way this really reads is “through the faithfulness of Jesus.”
So our salvation comes not by what we do (works of the law) or what we believe (in Jesus) but through what Jesus did for us—he was faithful to God. I’ve said this before—it bears repeating!
So God’s extravagant hospitality invites us to the kingdom. God opens the kingdom with grace. The only thing we have to do is accept the invitation and say thank you.
Can you imagine how life was for the woman in Luke’s story? What life was like as a new creation, as a child of God? The grace that filled her heart to overflowing would be with her forever.
This grace, and the joy it brings us, is not for the “ever after” but for right now, today. I’m so grateful to my grandmother that she lived grace and helped me know what God offers us.
God’s gracious gift of salvation is for us now, not to set aside until we die. As we live to follow Christ with our whole lives, we show that we accept God’s extravagant gift. We live thankfully and joyfully in that grace.
What keeps us from living this gift? For some, it is self-righteousness, like Simon the Pharisee. He thought that he had made himself right with God, so he thought that he didn’t need grace. He trusted in himself, not God.
Others feel themselves unworthy of God’s grace. They can’t believe that God loves them, or that God’s grace is offered to them. So they show that they don’t trust God’s promises.
Jeff Krantz has written, “Because of this, there are deep cisterns in us filled with guilt that Jesus would turn to wine, if only we could bring ourselves to hear and trust his word of forgiveness. And when we do, the woman’s reaction no longer seems so peculiar. In fact, I can imagine many more extraordinary responses.”
The message that we hear from Luke and Paul today is, “Jesus accepts you just as you are, and, Jesus will change your life.” God’s extravagant hospitality.
God’s extravagant hospitality. The abundance of grace.
How are we already living it? What could we do so that everybody will see and accept this glorious gift from God?

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details