21 February 2010

Something to Cry About

Yesterday, during the Dean's Hour at St. Luke's Cathedral, Kenneth Bailey taught about the woman in the house of Simon. Two works of his that have impacted my studies are Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes and Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke.

The strength of Dr. Bailey's teaching finds expression most notably when he begins walking through a text with his saturated Middle-Eastern mind (he spent forty years teaching in seminaries and institutes in Egypt, Lebnon, Beirut, and Cyprus), filling in all the overlooked blanks that we Westerners typically miss. He reminds me of a New Testament version of Bruce Waltke, whom I had the privilege of sitting under at Reformed Theological Seminary about ten years ago.

I only want to mention here something he said while teaching that jumped out at me; something that I've not quite heard put in this way. Remember when Jesus is at Simon the Pharisee's house and this "sinner," this woman of the street, hangs all over him from the moment he's welcomed inside? From what I remember, her tears that wet the Messiah's feet were assumed to be tears shed over her many sins. Not quite, says Bailey. Those tears were shed as a result of Jesus' public humiliation (in light, of course, of her new-found freedom of forgiveness of sins), that is, those signs of honor that were withheld from him upon entering Simon's house: the kiss, the anointing, the washing of the feet, and so on.

Jesus had been asked there by his elders to get schooled. But instead he does the schooling ("Simon, I have something to say to you," v. 40). Simon had foregone the respect due to the one who, above all others, deserved it: "I entered your house! You [Simon] gave no water for my feet, gave no kiss, no anointing"; "but she wet my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair [which exposing of hair was a scandal in those days]; she has not ceased to kiss my feet; she has anointed my head with perfume" (vv. 44–46). Thus, her "faith has saved" her (v. 50). What faith? She didn't say a word! Her faith, her faithfulness, was evidenced in her actions that day. She entered into Jesus' messianic sufferings, the way of the cross, of costly grace, and so enters into his peace.

To paraphrase Bailey (and his handy handout that he handed out): Jesus is saying, "I have forgiven/mediated the forgiveness of this woman's sins. She has offered much love to me. This is appropriate becomes I am like the creditor in the parable" (see vv. 41–42). In the beginning of the parable the creditor is clearly God (YHWH, Israel's covenant Lord); but by verse 42, Jesus is clearly the creditor ("Your sins have been forgiven," he tells the woman in v. 48b). So of course, the Pharisees respond in wonder, "Who is this, who even forgives sins?" (v. 49). And thus, at the very least, Jesus presents himself as the mediator of the forgiveness of God. Jesus also clearly assumes the role of creditor in the last portion of the parable (v. 42b: "Which of [the debtors] will love [the creditor] more?"). He accepts the grateful love of the woman (vv. 47ff.) and blames Simon because he has failed to serve as she served. Thus Jesus is (again, at the very least) saying, "I am the unique representative of God to whom thanks for forgiveness received is appropriately offered."

So, yet again in the gospels, we see Jesus identifying himself with Israel's creator God, YHWH, the almighty Lord of heaven and earth. There is no middle ground: either accept that the divine presence of God (the shekinah) is indeed in Jesus and tabernacled among his people or be offended by the mere thought and reject it.


roger flyer said...

Thanks for this Chris.

Chris Donato said...

I appreciate you stopping by, roger. Thanks for the kind words.

Hearing from you has led me back to your MySpace page—loving the tunes—especially "if jesus was from jersey"!

Anonymous said...

Why do you have to go and mess up our long standing tradition of biblical woman-hating? Next thing you know, you're going to try and tell us that Rebekah wasn't really some bad mother and wife, but was being faithful to the covenant, or that the woman at the well really wasn't a whore but had been deserted by all of her "husbands." oh, wait...

That was really good insight, btw. I hadn't thought/read of it before, but it makes perfect sense.

Chris Donato said...

Hey, I don't about any subversive motives here, but Bailey did mention two things: 1) besides Jesus, that woman was the only theologian of real caliber in the room; 2) Jesus was willing to get hurt at Simon's house to publicly reach out in costly love to this unknown immoral woman.

I'd say that's a slight elevation.

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