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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 11, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
June 16, 2013

Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36 – 8:3

‘Intimacy and tension’

“Alas, the Church has drained Jesus’ life of all desire, and insisted that his mother never felt desire, that neither she nor he experienced sexual intimacy or longing. The Church has built itself into the Church of Simon, extolling the virtues of abstinence, at least until marriage if not lifelong, and of sex within marriage to procreate children, not to satisfy desire. The Church has proclaimed that these are the habits that lead to heaven, and desire is a tool of the Devil.

“When birth control first became available in the 1960s, the church was scandalised and disapproving. Then came the single-mother wars … After that, the gay wars began. And now, the marriage wars are being waged, whether gays should be allowed to marry and have children, and whether women who do not marry but have children are social sinners, whether it is possible to raise a human being without a father in the house; whether two fathers or two mothers are the ruin of a child. In other words, the cultural argument is over a sole model of moral life: heterosexual parents pushing prams. In the Church of Simon, these questions are paramount, and they define the faith practiced there.

“But in the Church of Jesus there are no such questions. The woman on the floor is near the centre of the painting [by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1630]. The table welcomes her and puts Simon to the test: are you willing to eat with her, and to call her Sister? For it is the outpouring of her heart that makes her holy. And it is her practices of desire that have made her heart so large. There is no model of holy family life in Jesus’ church, only the example of generously loving hearts. And the option of having an adult sexual life without children, exploring myriad other ways to serve God, through art, public service, or justice action, is welcomed as the road that Jesus and most of the first disciples took, an adventuresome road, in which we do not fear but trust that grace will abound.

“As his mother Mary sang before he was born: Christ lives to scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts, to tear down the mighty from their thrones; to exalt the lowly; and to fill the hungry (and he includes desire as hunger) with good things” (Nancy Rockwell). God be with you …

Today’s homily is inspired by readings and discussions at the manse on Thursday night. Our Gospel re-tells a story first told by Mark. It’s a story featured in all four gospels. Each telling differs in various and interesting ways, but the basic scene is similar. During a meal a woman approaches Jesus with precious perfume.

She is the vulnerable one, the vilified one, the courageous one, the loving one, the hospitable one, the faithful one, the one whom Jesus defends. The painting by Rubens shows it beautifully. Drawn into the scene, I can feel both the intimacy and the tension.

Depending on my sense of wellbeing – my self-confidence, my happiness or inner peace, my sense of self-worth – I’m likely to feel more keenly either the intimacy or the tension.

A lot depends on what theologians call the priority of divine love – the belief that God loves me/us first. It’s worth drawing a deep breath in recognition of this … new reality called redemption. The world is a different place once we’re convinced of our own dignity as beloved creatures/children. That’s why the apostle Paul insists on a certain Christ-consciousness centred on grace. In Christ, he assures the Galatians, there is freedom from anxiety and judgement; there is freedom for kindness and intimacy. In Christ, there is strength to resist all manner of ridicule, uptightness, fear, condemnation, exclusion, violence, jealousy, envy. The Good News is nothing less than Christ-consciousness centred on grace.

One commentator writes: “Every choice we make will either move us closer to God and freedom, or further away from God with a loss of freedom that will begin to stress us out, make us sick and prevent us from becoming the gift to others we are destined to be” (Jill Freibel).

What if I were so free that I could move towards God and make decisions that would free me from the tyranny of pleasing others? I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about saying no to their pressures even when they sounded legitimate. When others tried to manipulate me, I could say no and let them take responsibility for themselves and not expect me to make them feel good. This sort of freedom is heady stuff. Can you imagine it? You will become like Jesus. The Spirit will fill you with joy and your life will overflow with gratitude and grace, affection for others, exuberance and serenity. You will experience a sense of compassion, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates all things. In Christ, like Jesus, we find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Your worth is in your existence (Jill Freibel). The Good News is nothing less than Christ-consciousness centred on grace. It’s worth drawing a deep breath in recognition of this.

New Testament scholar, Bill Loader, sees “a defiant Jesus who is willing to receive love and affection. The receiving was a great act of giving.” Loader goes on to ponder, with regard to the story’s patriarchal and misogynistic context: “Was it possible to relate to women without having to control them? Could one risk spontaneity? Or would one be swallowed up again by the irrational passions that men feared made women so dangerous? Many sages advised limited contact with women. … But women were also strong figures, managing households, the richer ones often playing significant roles within the community, not least in support of teachers. Luke is making that point in 8:1-3.

“Jesus appears to have been able to meet women as people, as human beings, not to be avoided, not as sources of danger. We can only speculate that he must have escaped the syndrome of resentment and exploitation that often governed such relations.”

Loader makes the point that the story – with its emphasis on the forgiveness of Jesus and the silent gratitude of the woman – risks promoting a lowly stance as appropriate for women, before recalling that, according to John, “Jesus made the stance his own when he washed his disciples’ feet”.

Others draw attention to Pope Francis washing and kissing the feet of 12 inmates of the Casal Del Marmo juvenile detention centre. Among the 12 were young women, a Muslim, gypsies and North African immigrants. After celebrating the mass, Francis addressed the gathering in the gym of the penitentiary: “… thank you boys and girls, for your welcome today. I am happy to be with you. Go forward, alright? And do not let yourselves be robbed of hope, do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Understood? Always with hope. Go forward!” (Zenit News Service, March 29, 2013).

In a positive Spirit, then, a final paragraph. In the house of Simon the Pharisee – who, let’s remember, has invited Jesus to dinner – we can assume a genuine curiosity and seeking after wisdom (in contrast to those already dismissive), even a respect for the power of Jesus’ teaching – there is forgiveness, there is the giving and receiving of love. An intimate scene unfolds. “Do you see this woman/person?” Jesus asks Simon. Who do you see? In this Gospel, who do you see? In this invitation to life, to relationship … in this painting, in this mirror, who do you see?

Let’s complete the homily together … Amen.