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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings

There are certain passages in the Gospels that are really hard for me to understand. I like this passage from Luke 7: it features the devotion and gratitude of a woman redeemed, but I must say that for a long time now, I just don't get the hair thing.

It's not a hang up or anything (or maybe it is), but I just can't get around it being her hair. In 1 Cor 11, Paul calls a woman's hair her crowning glory. In these stories of Jesus' feet being anointed with oil or tears and wiped with a woman's hair is bemusing to me -- what are they really to mean?

In the other Gospels the incident occurs just before the Passion -- actually as a part of the Passion narrative and has overtones of a priestly action. I like that -- a woman anointing as a priest would the feet of Jesus. The focus is on the sacrifice of Jesus and the humility of the woman.

In Luke, however, the focus is much more on the woman's "sinner's" nature -- and her gratitude to Jesus for her redemption and forgiveness.

But I still end up thinking about the hair. There is a sensuality that is undeniable here and an extravagant outpouring of love. I know how my hair will catch scent: I wonder how long she was haunted by that odor? Of course that points out another difference between Luke's account and the other Gospels -- in this account there is an emphasis on the tears of the woman. Is that significant? Should we view them as completely different stories? First because this story in Luke occurs in the middle of Jesus' ministry and the others nearer to the Passion narrative; second because in Luke there is mention of tears and then the oil or ointment or perfume.

This wiping with the hair -- it's disturbing. It's totally out of character for a first century Jewish woman to let her hair down in public and then it has definite erotic overtones. It's so intimate. What is it with the hair??

But it is an extravagance of love being poured out. And maybe a form of complete dedication -- as is pointed out in the Galatians text "and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Perhaps these passages are about complete devotion.

What are you thinking about this Tuesday morning?


  1. erm could you put a link to the lectionary or the texts? Thanks

  2. The hair is what makes this account so special. It is an intimate act any time we are truely thankful to God. It is intimate to be forgiven. The relationship between Jesus and this woman was more than forgiver/forgiven, there was a closeness that is difficult to understand. So it should be in our relationships. That intimacy, that closness, is missing in so many worship experiences and personal lives. Expressing that intimacy has become close to unseen in many churches, mine included.
    All that being said, I'm preaching on Galatians Sunday night the third in a six week series while my husband gets to preach Luke sunday morning. (And I'm sticking out my bottom lip thinking NOT FAIR!! while I type this.

  3. Somehow in my sermon this Sunday, which begins our five minute homily series, I will aim to speak about the pervasiveness of sin that lives in the heart of every disciple of Christ (ie Simon. The tendency to "say to himself" where that secret place inside of us, where we talk to ourselves, is a place that goes unchallenged, and therefore where 'judgement" can reside.

    Perhaps Jesus wants to take our inner monologues and turn them into dialogues. Helping us to move from that place of inner judgement that leads to alienation and isolation, to a new place of forgiveness.

    When we are loved for being who are, and when we really understand the depth of that love and the forgiveness that comes with it, then we love with the same generosity in return. Sitting at the feet of Jesus is the act of a disciple, one learning how to love. Becoming aware of what this kind of love really means... can reduce us to tears. And as we wipe awaay the tears and dry the feet of Jesus with our hair, we take him into us. The scent of Jesus becomes a part of who we are.

    Ok. I have no idea if this is really where I am going, nor how to use it, in five minutes time. Just my first impressions. Thankfully I have a few days to figure it out.

    1. I love what you say about the scent of Jesus becoming part of us, as we dry his feet with our hair . . . thanks so much!

  4. I am looking at the Galatians text with emphasis, of course, on "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me." I am struck by my own tendency to believe I am serving FOR Christ, and yet, perhaps when I am at my most noble, I'm not doing anything FOR Christ, Christ is simply coming out in me. That begs the question of is there anything I can do to get myself out of the way and allow Christ room to work? And, further, should our question be not so much "what would Jesus do?" but "what is Jesus already doing if we could give him room to live?" Those are my first thoughts - jumbled I know.

  5. [this is from earthchick - all of a sudden I can't log in here]

    Theoretically, I'm preaching on Galatians. But your thoughts and questions about the woman's hair have made me sort of want to do Luke.

    This morning, when I was putting my makeup on before work, one of my 3 y.o. sons came in the bathroom to play (read: get in my way). He was messing around with the cabinets underneath the sink, right at my feet. And then I started feeling an odd but delightful sensation on my bare leg - I looked down, and he was rubbing his curly moptop back and forth over my shin. Then he looked up and smiled, and told me he was tickling me. It was very dear.

    When thinking about the woman with the hair, I tend to think about things from her perspective - the intimacy of washing someone's feet with my tears, and drying them with my hair. This morning, thanks to my son, I'm thinking about what it might have been like for Jesus, to be on the receiving end of such a gift. I think this morning was the first time anyone ever intentionally touched me with their hair - and it was quite nice.

  6. Oh wait, I was able to log in.

    I should add that I'm still going with Galatians. I need to find a title in the next 47 minutes, when we have staff meeting....

  7. I'm going to do Luke- and I love the hair story- the complete abandonment of cultural nicities that cause this woman a. to enter a Pharisees house, and then B. to let down her hair weeping openly and cleanse Jesus feet....
    The perfume to sheer extravagance...
    forgiven much she loves much, simply wonderful....and Jesus accepts this outpouring of love as fitting and right, her unselfconcious intimacy with him, no matter who was there, who was watching....yes I feel a sermon coming on!

  8. Took me forever to be able to open the comments page. Very strange.

    I'm going with Galatians also. I have some newer folks who are asking questions about "What does God say about tatoos?" and "How do I get Christ into my heart" so the whole justified by faith rather than by rigid adherence to rules is where I started my thoughts.

    But I LOVE Chilly Fingers' thoughts. That would certainly answer the 2nd question - we don't GET CHrist in our hearts, he's already there. It's the letting him out part that is difficult.

  9. Oh that is annoying, got a comment half written and Explorer decided I wanted to change pages Grrrr.

    ANyway, as I was saying...

    I am taking a bit of a tangent from the Luke passage. I am struck by the pure chutzpah this woman has. SHe risks condemnation, rejection, and literally being tossed out on the street.

    I am afraid that the church (in general terms) has become to worried about risk. We are worried that we will fail, or be rejected, or be scorned, or -even worse- be ignored. I have come to believe that we don't fail enough because failure shows that we are risking. In many places a 10% --or sometimes even a 1% or 5%-- success rate is fantastic but we seem to want it to be 75% or higher. My sermon title? Indecent Risk -- Amazing Forgiveness

    My opening comments will be on the church blog in a half hour or so -- once I get them written.

  10. Hmm. Anyone else for 1 Kings? Come on, nothing like a juicy OT story full of intrigue. It's Naboth's vineyard....Hm. Guess I'm on my own. Which is disastrous, because I don't really have any ideas at the moment. "Land Deals" is the title, but I don't know what I meant by that...anyone want to join me?

  11. I love all the great discussion in intimacy.

    Earthchick- thanks for sharing the idea of the warmth Jesus might have felt when he was touched by someone who loved him. I imagine this didn't happen often. He left his family, and as far as we know, didn't travel with a spouse or family. What that intimacy must have been for him...

    In a small way I find I ache for that as well, being a pastor- the friendships within the congregation are not as intimate- they can't be. I will always be a pastor to these folks, that is how they first knew me. And how the power balence will stay.

    But to lean into the intimacy of forgiveness... and just for a moment touch physically as well as spiritually... hmmm still percolating here....

  12. esperanza,
    I am do something around 1 Kings for children' time. I am thinking that I will use it as a way to lift up in some small way the pressing issues of First Nations Land Claims. Whose land is it anyway???

  13. Oh and here is teh Kings passage. WEll actually it is the whole chapter while the lectionary picks and chooses verses.

  14. Bah, browser dumped my comments too.

    I love this story, and its the hair and the tears that make me love it so much. I think backwoods_rev has a really important part of it. Not only was Jesus traveling (we assume) without family but think of how easily teachers/preachers are put up on pedestals and isolated.

    Intimate human contact is so incredibly important. I think of the priests I've worked with when they're facing something rather dreaded on the horizon. A big tight hug goes a long way. (Maybe because we're repressed Midwesterners and don't get much physical contact.)

    Jesus was facing death and finally someone had the courage and the depth of love/grief to touch him. Not just touch him but weep with him. I can imagine her sobbing, kissing his feet, wiping her tears away with her hair. It's one of the most intimate things I can imagine, it's beautiful.

    I'd like to think someday I will be so brave.

  15. Random thoughts about Jesus and the woman --
    I remember an older person in our congregation saying the thing she missed most about living alone is the lack of touch. When I was a chaplain at the VA - one of the families paid a masseuse to come in every week to give a massage to their grandfather. He had senile dementia and was often agitated - the massage would calm him.
    The OT (I see RCL has 2 choices) is full of the use/misuse of power over others. Wondering if there is a conneciton between the OT and Gospel -about taking back one's own power.

  16. Wondering if anyone is taking on this week's Hallmark High Holy Day of Father's Day?

  17. Interesting to reflect on the subject of Fathers day whilst looking at this passage... is Jesus revealing the father heart of God in forgiving and accepting the woman just as she is, is he equally bring the fathers challenge to Simon?

  18. Ok. I think I am going to go in a complex direction of combining a recognition of World Refugee Day (coming up on June 20) with our readings for this Sunday. I think I'll reflect on how refugee ministry is the primary ministry of our congregatin and it always points us to look at the ways we are both Simon (contributing the the global conditions that cause war, genocide, and violence that result in refugees) and the way we are the woman, showing compassion and living Christ's love and forgiveness in the world.

    Now to tighten it up into a five minute homily...

  19. we switched the lectionary to match the choir schedule, so we did the woman last week. (basic idea: Simon saw only a label/category, Jesus saw a human being/child of God. What would it mean to look beyond our fearful labels and see real people loved by God?)
    That means this week we have the Elijah-taking-the-widow's-last-food story. as far as I know the focus is on taking risks in faith, or something....

    the reason for switching this? The women's choir is singing "He Never Failed Me Yet" this coming Sunday and it didn't really go with the woman and her hair...

  20. I have had nearly the same thoughts about the hair. Curious. And also wondered whether we are hearing the stories of two different encounters...seems that one may have been Mary of Bethany who was not (necessarily) known as a sinful woman. And how likely is it that such similar things would happen twice? Anyway, your post got me thinking of the pervasiveness of scent...and it is not like she had a nice shower and shampoo...and how long the scent "haunted" her. Good pondering....

  21. I'm definitely leaning towards the passage from Luke. I'm thinking about it along two different tracks:

    1. Last week, which was the first Sunday in "ordinary" time, we heard about the extraordinary work of God's love, which, in the words of one of the contributors to last week's blog, "sucks the breath out of death (brilliant description!). This week, we see a gesture of faith that is as extravagant, generous and out of the ordinary as they come--so much so that it makes us actually a little uncomfortable: "too much information, people" kind of uncomfortable. So what does this tell us about ordinary time?

    2. Sort of over and against this line of thought, I am wrestling with something else. My husband was a gunship pilot who arrived in Vietnam just as the Tet offensive was getting launched. He cannot read John 15:13 "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends" without getting choked up. Ever since we have been together, there's been this little voice in me that says, "no--that's just not my experience." Maybe it's a girl/woman thing. Maybe it is the absence of experience in such desperate circumstances, though I have had my own share of tough times. But I can't shake the sense that the greater love sometimes is NOT dying, but living fully enough into who I am called to be to be able to respond as Mary Magdalene did. And now, about to enter my 20th year of marriage, the crucible where I have most had to learn about love, I see that part of the challenge, whether it is loving my husband, or loving God, is risking that kind of passionate, vulnerable response long after that initial "I'm in love" phase is over. We circumscribe our gestures of love so easily.

    More to reflect on, but that seems to be where my heart is taking me...

  22. Gord, (wow, I just typed God--that should be a promotion for you!) thanks for the First Nations and land thoughts....that may make it in there somewhere. Now I'm reflecting on how we often see people as a way to get to something we want, rather than as people. Good thing it's only Tuesday.

  23. Not sure where the sermon is headed yet but after this morning's study w/colleagues can contribute these questions:
    (1) is the woman in Luke Mary Mag. or another woman off the street?
    (2) who are we preaching too... do we have Simon's in our pews or more folks off the street?
    (3) how can we connect the sermon to confession & forgiveness which we always, always begin worship with but hugely take for granted...
    (4) are our sins the weight of 50 or of 500 or more?

    no answers. just thoughts.

  24. so i spent a bunch of time with the luke passage yesterday and find it evokes SO MANY QUESTIONS- which is great and all- but leaves me a bit unsure of where I'm headed. i posted some of my tangled musings at dps yesterday.

    i am not so hung up on the hair- though the article on the front page of textweek this week is really helpful- sorry, too busy for links today!

    what i'm thinking about is the mixture of grief and gratitude in the woman's actions (helped by that textweek featured article). i'm thinking about the fact that it seems she must have had some encounter with Christ before as she came ready to anoint and thus we can understand her acts (and it seems Jesus understands her acts) as acts of gratitude and love, but the hair down was a sign of grieving in that time and it seems to me that perhaps she has already received acceptance and forgiveness from Christ, but she can't really believe it, or she is more aware of her brokenness now that she has been welcomed into a safe embrace- isn't that often our experience? And so it's almost like she's trying to be worthy of the love she's been shown sort of. I say this because Jesus' commentary suggests both- that this is her gratitude, but then he also declares her forgiveness AFTER interpreting her acts in this way (well, he doesn't interpret them as gratitude, but as hospitality- also interesting point). Scholars say this is because two stories have been blended, but... I see something powerful in this mixed account.

    I guess what I am seeing is that she is like us, worshipping Christ partly out of gratitude for what has already been done, but partly trying to be worthy even though that's not what grace is about. Does that make sense?

    But here's my BIG question- is it possible she came in with Jesus??? I think about the people Jesus brings with him, whereever he goes, and it sure seems she could be one of them. I'm so baffled by how she got into the room and escaped notice until her attention to Jesus' feet. The bit at the end about the women who travelled with Jesus also reinforces this read for me. What do you think? Is it possible?

  25. Well, a Pope of long ago wanted us to think it was Mary Mag, but that doesn't mean it's so.
    I am off-lectionary, somewhat sadly, because I'm on Part 7 of my Christian Formation in the 21st Century and talking about ways we name God. I'm going to give the folks a good dose of Father language hymns, then deliver a change-up in the sermon. I expect a stoning after church. (I'm only 35% kidding.)
    I haven't decided on texts, so I would welcome suggestions.

  26. With you all the way Songbird- peace and blessings be with you :-)

  27. Sb, I'll think about scripture resource that might be helpful - "She who is" By Elizabeth Johnson (do you have this book? If not I'll thumb through it and see what comes up)...

  28. Songbird -- what about a text that focuses not on God's name, but how God changes our names? (I'm thinking of Isaiah texts like you were once Not my people, but now you are called, beloved. Or something like that. I have to look it up.)

    No, the hair woman is NOT Mary Magdalene.

    I've always been struck by the extravagance of her gesture, over the top, embarrassing. I once went to a Black Pentecostal worship service where they stayed for four hours! That's extravagant worship.

    We're afraid to let loose, but this woman didn't care.

    That's all for now.

  29. I remember a story I was told (and I don't remember if it is first hand or not) about a masseuse who decided to do some volunteer work in a nursing home -- one older woman who was quite irritable and snapped at everyone was her patient for the day. She laid the lady face down on that table that lets you REALLY lay face down and she began to work. After a while she was aware of the woman shuddering and that there was something warm and wet on her feet -- the woman was crying and her tear landed on the masseuse's feet. The woman was crying because it had been years since she had been touched and her tears were anointing the masseuse's feet.

    Maybe the woman in the Gospel had not encountered that kind of incarnational love and was crying because of the Master's forgiving touch on her soul?

    Or am I being too fanciful?

  30. I spent 9 years as a massage therapist giving treatments as a volunteer in hospice to the dying and their caretakers as well as having a private practice. The story about the massage therapist and the nursing home is sadly (powerfully) true. Imagine no one ever touching you...the elderly experience it all the time. I've preached on (massage, the healing power of touch) too many times in my parish, so I can't go there for awhile. But it's a good direction for the reading.

    Also, in Homiletics there is a "reflection" on 1 Kings that uses Deal or Deal as an illustration in terms of how that show is about greed (or not) as is the Kings text....

  31. I found a great PC(USA) resource for alternative images of God in scripture, so thank you great Presbyterian resource fairies!
    I'm going to use Romans 8:15-17 as the focus scripture but also make reference to other names for God in a message about how language can be a barrier to exactly the people we hope the church will reach, people who don't assume that masculine pronouns refer to everyone, for starters.

  32. The whole hair thing in Luke has captured my Tuesday thoughts. I find this description especially poignant having experienced baldness two years ago during chemo--didn't think it would affect me, but it was quite the learning experience.

    Initial thoughts include what it means to "let one's hair down" and how wildly extravagant and risky this action was on the woman's part. According to one source ( this phrase originated during Napoleanic days, when it was taboo for nobility to appear in public without elaborate hairdos. The only time they could be themselves was in private when they could truly let down their hair. The term has come to mean being relaxed.

    How "relaxed" are we about our faith. How comfortable are we with the radical nature of what we have? What hairdos do we put on for the world to see when our authentic selves, saved by grace, would be so much more preferable? What "hairdos" do our congregations wear?

    I don't know where it will lead, but it could be fun. What would it take for us to be truly comfortable with our own skins, much less our faith?

  33. anyone, is it possible the woman came in with Jesus or is that a stretch?

  34. more cows, I don't get that from the text. It's her anonymity that is so striking, someone who "heard" where he would be and managed to find a way to be near him.
    (Oh, how I wish I were preaching this one...)

  35. Songbird: re Names of God. Don't forget the ever popular "Andy." You know, "Andy walks with me. Andy talks with me..."

    Sorry, had to go there. One of my youth suggested it years ago, and I've used it a couple of times in different places when preaching about the names of God. Lightens it up a bit.

  36. Thanks for these comments... I keep thinking about what Simon said TO HIMSELF: "Doesn't he know this is and what she's done?"
    We don't know what she's done...Simon probably only knew a little bit. But God knows it all.
    How many times do we say "doesn't he/she know what they've done?" He destroyed his marriage with alcohol. She had a child at 16. He hits his kids. She votes Republican. He thinks un-American thoughts. She doesn't recycle. Or whatever!
    And God says, I know what she's done. But more importantly, I know whose she is. She's mine. Back off!

    Not really a sermon, but my thoughts.

  37. Is the woman with the jar Mary Magdalene? I don't think in Luke she is for this reason:

    In the next chapter, 8:1-2, Luke talks about Jesus continuing on through the cities and vilages with the 12 and with some women who had be cured of evil spirit and infirmities.
    Mary Magdalene is name as one from whom 7 demons had gone out.

    Different woman.

    I really hope someday we can teach our children that the women around Jesus were not all reformed prostitutes - now pristine in their chastity. Women=sex=sin. Have we come along way yet?

  38. Amen, Backwoods Rev! And amen again! I'm not going to a sexual sin place with this woman, even though a case can be made for that, because we don't have to. The article on the front page of text week taught me that unbound hair was also a mark of grief in that culture. This opens up some compelling- non-sexual- interpretations. It's not explicitly in the text. Somewhere I also read this week (maybe it was the same article), that the Pharisee associates Jesus being able to know this woman's sin with the abilities of a prophet- this suggests that her sin was not immediately apparent to the naked eye. So, her behavior, sensual though it was, is not assumed, by the pharisee at least, to be revelatory of the nature of her sin. He has some other knowledge of her sin that a prophet should also know. And conflating her with Mary Magdalene (also not a prostitute) can also be avoided here. Thanks for bringing this into the discussion.

    Now I have to try to write the monologue that's brewing.

  39. I am struck by rev. mother's original thought about the smell in her hair after this moment. recently I heard someone talk about liking books more than computers because they have texture and a smell that helps them become part of our memory (instead of being gone for gone with the click of a button). I also remember the smell of mushroom country on the way to visit my grandparents when I was a child. It is horrid, of course, not all that different from dirty feet, but its association with those visits makes it a good smell to me now. Would the smell of feet in the future be a good smell to this woman, would it remind her of God's forgiveness, and maybe help her not sin in the future? I'm not sure that this is a sermon, but I find it quite evocative.


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