On July 21, 2005, during the “Dare To Be Lutheran” Higher Things conference, twelve hundred people attended Divine Service at the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus on the campus of Concordia Seminary. Rev. Todd Peperkorn presided as Celebrant, and the Rev. Dr. Norman E. Nagel preached for the Festival of St. Mary Magdelene on the text Luke 7:36–50. This is the text of his sermon.
It’s risky, it really is, to invite Jesus in as Simon discovered. He had heard about Jesus. Everybody has heard something about Jesus. But that something might be just about enough—enough to have sorted Him out, got His number, put Him in His place, nice Jesus. More might be risky. He is so difficult to keep under control.
Simon was going to have a closer look at Jesus. He might find him useful. Luke tells of Jesus as one whom you cannot fool. He knows what’s coming at Him, but that doesn’t stop Him. He accepts Simon’s invitation. Simon doesn’t realize what he is in for. He expects to measure Jesus up and decide what’s the use of Him. What happens is that Simon is the one who gets judged, and that with Jesus you can’t play measurements. Simon was the host. He would call the shots according to his rules. Jesus would be at the receiving end of the way Simon played it.
What spoils his game, what shouldn’t have happened, is this woman off the street with a very poor reputation. She would never be invited to Simon’s table, but there she is, drawn in by Jesus. She came at Jesus from behind. She wanted Him to be for her. She didn’t have any chips to lay down to play any games with. She was just there, all of her. She had been played games with, games in which she hadn’t been cared about, but games that were only for having the use of her. That can be done for sex, for selling, or in all the ways people would manipulate you to their use or program.
The woman had heard something of Jesus. She hoped He might not be like that. She did not attempt to work Him. She was simply there. Nothing held back to negotiate with. On His feet her tears, a sadly worn and damaged woman. Jesus knew what with her was coming to Him. Simon came at Him to sit in judgment on Him. This woman was judged enough already. Would Jesus be different?
Today’s Gospel says, yes, Jesus is different. Jesus is something else. There’s what’s in Jesus that’s nowhere else. He doesn’t play the games by which the rest of the world tries to get along. Jesus is the opposite of all that. Yet just to say what Jesus is the opposite of is to submit Him to that standard. He doesn’t suffer Himself to be measured by any of the measurements we may try out on Him.
Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” No one had ever loved her like that before.
So what’s with Jesus forgiving sins? “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” Only the Lord God Himself can do that. Jesus doesn’t stop to argue with them about that. He is there for this woman—all of Him. He is such a Jesus as He gives to her. “That’s my Jesus,” says faith.
He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Does your faith save you or does Jesus save you? Spurious alternative. Can’t have one without the other. Loads of people try to have a Jesus, but not by faith. That’s the Jesus they have measured Him up to be, one that suits them.
Faith rejoices to be given the whole of Jesus, all of Jesus, “for you,” and that is then always more and more beyond measurement. There is a love beyond measure.
To Simon, who is doing the measuring bit, Jesus says big sins, big forgiveness, big love. Jesus is still trying to get through to Simon, to free him up from his measurements for judging Jesus. Take a look, Simon, at the way the measurements go. How do you stack up that way?
That’s all been left behind with the woman. She’s been given more Jesus than she could ever have dreamed of. Glad of such a Jesus—that’s faith. That’s the joy of faith, the joy of Jesus, the joy of those whose sins He forgives.
“Go in peace” —these are the words of Jesus that He speaks to you by His use of the minister’s mouth. After, by His use of the minister’s hands, He has given into your mouth His body and His blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins, and more. Your sins are not the meas- urement, the size, of His love.
Then leave your sins behind you, all of them, big and small. He has answered for them in your place at Calvary with His body and His blood. Take and eat, take and drink, He says, my body, my blood, given and shed for you. “Your faith has saved you.” Your Jesus has saved you beyond measure with His body and His blood. “Go in peace.” Amen.
Amen, indeed. Thank you, Dr. Nagel.
— all of us at Higher Things