June 23, 2019
Second Sunday After Pentecost
Pastor SeokCheol Shin
The Mercy of God
Civil Law vs. God’s Grace
As I said before, I am not a money person. I rarely check out the bill statements from my banks. When I opened the online banking through the website, I saw there was a late fee on my credit card. I immediately called the credit card company and asked their mercy for a refund. The staff tried to refund my money back, but he couldn’t, because the banking system didn’t allow him to do it. Civil law is not flexible. It hardly tolerates our mistakes and faults.
We know that God is the Judge; he rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. If our Lord was so strict with his judgment according to our deeds and acts, how many of us could live in peace and stand with a whole body before the Lord?
Unlike our civil law, however, God is flexible, tolerable, and merciful in his judgment: “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” (Ps. 145:8). In the Gospel of Matthew, Peter asked Jesus, “How many times are we supposed to forgive those who are against us? Up to seven times?” Jesus replied, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Mt. 18:12), which means perfect forgiveness. Jesus himself showed a good example of God’s mercy when he died on a cross, praying for his enemies, “Father, forgive them.”
No one is righteous before God and we all know it. Yet we also know that we are all forgiven sinners. We are forgiven because God is merciful enough, Jesus died for us, and we are saved by God’s grace. Therefore, we don’t want to live by law but live by faith in Jesus Christ our Savior.
The Pharisee and The Woman and Jesus Christ
The Gospel lesson for this morning is a good example to teach us that God in Jesus desires mercy and wants us to be merciful to people around us. In this story, Jesus was invited to a notable Pharisee, Simon’s, home to dine with him (v. 36). Surprisingly, an unexpected woman came to their dinner table. We don’t know why, but she just wept and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment (vv. 38-39). The people there were upset because she was an intruder to their dinner party, but Jesus was fine with this strange woman and even let her touch his feet.
What kind of woman was she? The story simply says that she came from the street and that she was a sinner. If we go deeper into our interpretation, we can assume that she might be a widow who had little income, and therefore she had to sit on the roadside to beg for food or money. Perhaps she was divorced. Back in ancient times in Israel, a woman didn’t have the right to divorce her husband but a man was free to divorce his wife anytime for any reason. If she burned his toast he could divorce her. Today we say it’s unfair but they believed that it was God’s divine law. After being divorced, this woman probably had to live a life tempting men on the street and people called her a prostitute or a sinner.
However, we really don’t know what kind of woman she was. All we know from the Bible is that she was a streetwalker and she was called a sinner. That’s it! Nevertheless, if we continue to judge her, it is all about our preconceptions. But this very little information about her life was good enough for Simon (Pharisee) to be angry with her when she burst in. “How dare this sinner come into my house!” was what he grumbled in his heart. Yet, that little information was good enough for Jesus to welcome her and even allow her to kneel and touch his feet.
Here is another point we need to consider. What made this woman run to Jesus? Why was she desperate for Jesus and willing to submit her whole body to him? Before we answer this question, we should remember that her community judged her as a sinner and she probably didn’t have many friends to chat, eat together, or hang around with her. Wherever she went, whomever she met, she must have felt ashamed. One day she probably heard that there was a man named Jesus who didn’t have any discrimination in his fellowship. She probably heard people saying he was a prophet or Messiah who was sent from God. She also heard people saying he was a good friend of sinners. That’s why she wanted to come forward to Jesus.
This Gospel lesson leads us to question ourselves: “What kind of friends do we have?” What kind of people do we want to invite to our community? Are we willing to eat together with those who don’t seem deserving of our friendship? Are we going to be fine when some strangers suddenly burst into our gatherings? Do we even desire to reach out to befriend the unwelcome people?
The Bible says that God is the final Judge and nobody is free from God’s rage, so we must repent before it’s too late… But today’s story in the Gospel teaches us that God doesn’t stop with judgment upon sinners (all human beings). Jesus’ final reaction to this woman was not judgment but mercy and salvation. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (v. 50).
Whatever sin it was, the woman was forgiven when she submitted her entire body under Jesus’ feet, which was the signature act of her repentance. Her action sharply contrasted the Pharisees, who were blatantly judgmental of the woman. Yet, Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace” (v. 50). He didn’t judge her previous life at all. When she came forward to Jesus, she was forgiven and received God’s peace. This story demonstrates that we are saved, not by our deeds, but by our faith in Jesus and God’s grace.
Living in God’s Peace
Writer, Philip Yancey says that God’s grace is like water–it always flows to the lowest part. While flowing downhill, it touches all things fairly. Likewise, Jesus Christ, the perfect sign of God’s grace and love, came down to seek the lost, touch the broken-hearted, forgive those condemned as sinners, and bring God’s salvation to all creation in the world. Nobody can stop God’s grace flowing to the lowest places or the lowest people, because everybody deserves God’s grace.
I don’t know what kind of person you think you are and how satisfied you are with your beings. Are you ashamed because you aren’t handsome enough, smart enough, rich enough? Is your heart burdened because you don’t have a good job; you aren’t married; perhaps you are a minority or LGBTQ…You don’t meet all those expectations that our culture, customs, politics or religion of today demand for us.
Don’t be ashamed of who you are or what you do. The God of mercy is there in our broken hearts, whispering, “You are good enough for me; my grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Like water, God’s grace will seek out those low places in your life, and God wants to be with you to sustain and bless your life. Let us remember that we are saved, not by what we do, but we are saved by God’s grace through Jesus. We are saved by faith in Jesus. As we come forward to Jesus this morning, therefore, let us live our lives in God’s peace. Amen.