“Feels Good to be Forgiven”
Fourth Week of Pentecost
June 16, 2013
First Christian Church
I’ve always found the choosing of a new Pope as fascinating. I love the mystery and pagentry of this event, which seems so anachronistic in our modern, democratic age. I can remember seeing the John Paul II being chosen when I was nine years old. I remember back in 2005 when Pope Benedict was chosen and of course I was listening to the news this March when Jorge Mario Bergoli, the Cardinal of Buenos Aires was chosen as the next pope. He took the name Francis, after the well-known saint. I think Francis is a great name because this pope has shown more humility in his post than his nearest predecessors. There is a picture taken a day or two after his election and he’s paying the bill at the hotel he was staying at. This isn’t what you expected someone who is the Pope would do.
Francis has been quietly shaking things up in the Vactican with his humble attitude. Two weeks after he had been chosen, on Maundy Thursday, he went to a near by Italian prison and decided to wash the feet of some prisoners. Now, it’s quite common for pastors to wash the feet of the faithful on Maundy Thursday, following what Jesus did with his disciples on the night of the last supper. What caused tounges to wag was the fact that two of the people chosen were women and one of them wasn’t even a Christian- she was Muslim. His act of washing the feet of young offenders which included women and non-Christians caused a stir. I’ve decided to Google Pope Francis washing feet, and found some interesting things. The first was a column from the National Catholic Reporter which lead to two articles. The first one was the blog of a traditionalist Catholic and the responses were interesting. Some were upset that the Pope only celebrated with the offenders and not a wide mass. Others worried that washing women’s feet was saying something about allowing women priests. In the comments, I found the following:
“Please , don’t wash a woman’s feet , 12 apostolic is only man “Altogether no women deacons are to be ordained.”” citing Canon from the Council of Orange. Another said, “Is this the first time a…Pope has washed the foot of a female on Holy Thursday? It certainly sets a bad precedent and I’m worried about where this will lead to. “ Finally, this is from a young priest: “I am a young, recently ordained priest. Tonight, I planned on preaching about the Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood. How can I speak about such things – the self-offering of Christ, the 12 viri selecti – when our Holy Father is witnessing to something different?”
I feel like going up to the congregation and saying, “I don’t have any idea what the symbolism of the washing of the feet is. Why don’t we just all do what we want.”
How hard this is for young priests.”
Pope Francis’ Maundy Thursday hubbub is a lot like today’s passage. In the book of Luke chapter 7, we see that Jesus has been invited to dinner at the home of Simon. Simon was a Pharisee, a member of the religious leadership. Everyone was probably having a good time chatting and eating food, when this woman crashes the party. Maybe Simon wasn’t good at keeping the doors locked or something, because somehow this woman got in. Most of the guests knew who this woman was. The Bible says she was a sinner. For some reason, our minds run towards sex when we think about this, but we don’t really know what she did to be called a sinner. What we do know is that whatever she did was considered to make her unclean.
So, the woman gets on her knees and starts washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and her hair. When she was done cleaning the feet, she then uses a jar of perfume and washes Jesus’ feet again with the ointment. It had to be quite a spectacle.
I can imagine that everyone was astounded by this shameless display. Simon mutters, that if Jesus was so holy, then he would know this woman was a sinner. You see, if she was a sinner, then she was unclean, and no holy person could be near an unholy one.
As usual, Jesus with the perfect hearing, starts to tell a story of a debt and forgiveness to Simon. He then quietly chides Simon for his surprising lack of hospitality and praises the woman for example of welcome. Jesus says to Simon, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
This woman felt the forgiving embrace of Jesus. She felt loved and remembered. She felt whole. In gracious response she washed the feet of Jesus, she took on the role of a servant, not because she didn’t think much of herself, but because she was grateful, grateful for being made whole again. Simon, on the other didn’t feel like a sinner. He was a Pharisee, after all, so he was someone who kept the law. He didn’t need forgiveness or so he thought, because he was keeping the law. His pride in keeping the law meant that he wasn’t as willing to be a servant. It meant that he would forget to be hospitable to the guests in his midst, which was a big faux paux in the culture of the day. The one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.
What about us? Do we know that we are loved and forgiven by God. Do we live a life of joyful service? It’s easy for us to get caught up in the busyness of the church. We worry about this hot button issue or that. We worry about the church budget. We worry about following this or that bible verse. We worry about our church boycotting this or supporting that. But what we forget is how much we need God; how much we remember that God loves and forgives and how much we need that love and forgiveness.
I can’t look into Pope Francis’ heart, but I’m guessing that he understands what it means to be forgiven. His act of washing the feet of convicts flows from knowing that God loves him and forgives him. To whom little is forgiven, loves little.
I want to end this sermon with other comments. A number of youths in Los Angeles heard of Pope Francis’ act and wrote letters to him. These kids were like the ones in Italy, juvenile offenders. Here’s one:
Dear Pope Francis,
Thank you for washing the feet of youth like us in Italy.
We also are young and made mistakes.
Society has given up on us, thank you
that you have not given up on us.
Dear Pope Francis,
I don’t know if you have ever been to where I live.
I have grown up in a jungle of gangs and drugs and violence.
I have seen people killed. I have been hurt.
We have been victims of violence.
It is hard to be young and surrounded by darkness.
Pray for me that one day I will be free
and be able to help other youth like you do.
Dear Pope Francis,
I know the same youth feet that you wash
are like me.
Drugs have been part of me life for so long.
We all struggle to be sober.
But you inspire me and I promise to be sober
and help others with the cruel addiction of crystal meth.
Dear Pope Francis,
I am glad you picked the name Francis. When I was little I read about St.Francis. He is a cool saint. He was a man of peace and simplicity. I am praying to you that you pray that we have peace in our gang filled neighborhoods.
“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
May we know we are forgiven and respond with joyful love to those we meet. Thanks be to God. Amen.