The Uninvited Dinner Guest

 

Imagine that you’re invited to someone’s house—someone you hardly know—and you arrive to find the door open.

As you enter, no one greets you . . . in fact, no one even acknowledges your arrival. No one says hello, no one offers to take your coat, no one offers you anything to drink. How would you feel? What would you do?

In Luke 7, we read about a man who was hosting an intimate dinner party consisting of well-known, well-educated men from the community. It was a special event for the Pharisees, who were among the educated elite and religious leaders during this time.

They knew of Jesus, but had not embraced the new ideas that He had been teaching his followers. Yet for some reason, Jesus had been invited to the dinner that evening, and as a visiting rabbi, He would have been regarded as a guest of honor.

However, the arrival of Jesus at the home of Simon was largely ignored. Even the most basic of rules of hospitality were disregarded toward him. No one greeted him with a kiss (the customary welcome), no water was given for him to wash his feet (the most minimal rule of hospitality), and no oil was put on his head (an optional, but a thoughtful gesture towards guests during this time). This wasn’t an accident, mistake or oversight, but a deliberate slap in the face and everybody knew it.1

Yet, Jesus proceeded to enter and took his place reclining at the table. The tension mounted as everyone waited to see how He would respond.

It was during this dinner party that an unusual interaction began to unfold. To the astonishment of the host and guests, a woman walked in and approached Jesus while He reclined at the table with the other guests.

Even more shocking was this woman’s notorious reputation in the community. Women in ancient Jewish culture didn’t hold an honorable place in society and they were usually not acknowledged or even addressed in public. How much more appalling that this woman would somehow feel compelled to come near Jesus!

Something was different about her. She no longer had a seductive air about her; she no longer hung her head in shame. Instead, she radiated a joy, peace, humility and purity that had not been evident in her life. For after years of feeling dirty and discarded, she had changed.

This woman knew how it felt to be rejected. She knew what it was like to be ridiculed and shunned. Something inside of her demanded to give her all to Jesus, because, after all, He had given so much to her.

Ignoring the cold stares and callous comments, this woman boldly approached Jesus and began to kiss his feet.

Imagine the scene!

Before she realized what was happening, a wave of emotion rushed over her and she began to cry uncontrollably. As her weeping escalated and captivated the attention of everyone in the room, she then proceeded to use her hair to wipe her tears off of his feet!

The feet of Jesus that were unwashed by Simon upon His arrival are now washed by the tears of a sinful woman. Continuing with her display of gratitude, she took her flask of fragrant perfume and lavishly poured it on His feet. This woman withheld nothing, giving her all to Jesus, emptying herself at His feet.

But why?

What would motivate this woman to demonstrate such a display of love and affection towards Jesus?

As I reflect on this passage, I can’t help think that the reason this woman did what she did is because Jesus gave her what no one else had given her – forgiveness and acceptance.

When no one accepted her, He welcomed her. When no one loved her, He loved her as His daughter. When she was alone, He was her friend. When everyone judged her, He restored her. When everyone else labeled her a “sinner”, Jesus gave her a new identity as a child of God.

He valued her, not as an object, but as a woman created uniquely by God.

And when everyone else held her past against her, Jesus forgave her and offered her a fresh start.

 

Jesus explained it this way,

“I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven a little shows only a little love.” Then Jesus said to

“I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven a little shows only a little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”  Luke 7:47-48 NLT.

The Greek word for forgiveness used in verse 47 of this passage is aphiemi. It means to send away, to let go free or to pardon. When someone is issued a pardon in a court of law, their past actions are not held against them. They have been given a clean slate, a fresh start, a new beginning.

The woman in Luke 7 probably had a long list of things she would have done differently. You may, too. The good news is that God doesn’t want you to live in the past, nor does he want you to live under the guilt of the past in the present.

He has something much better for you. God’s forgiveness offers you—a fresh start, a clean slate. You are invited to the table!

And this is just the beginning. God’s forgiveness now enables you to enter into the fullness of life God has created for you to enjoy.

Think about it…

  • In your own words, define what forgiveness means to you.
  • Can you identify with the woman in Luke 7? How?
  • How does knowing God has forgiven you and given you a fresh start change the way you see yourself?

 

1John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003) p. 206-207.

A House Full of Rats

Several years ago my kids began asking begging for a pet.

“Puulleeaassee, Mom! Can we get a pet? Can we please? Can we please? Can we please, please, PLEASE!?”

Everyday they would ask, and everyday I firmly stood my ground, “Not until you’re older and can take care of a pet.” (I knew the allure of the pet would quickly dissipate leaving me with the responsibility to care for an animal in addition to our young and growing family.)

But slowly, over time, like rain eroding a mountainside, I noticed my husband’s resolve begin to wear thin. He started saying things like, “A pet would be good for the kids. It would teach them to love God’s creation, value life and learn to be responsible.”

Blah, blah, blah.

Then one fateful day, Gregg called me from Petco.

His appeal sounded something like this, “What do you think about getting pet rats for the kids?”

Bless. His. Heart.

“You’re kidding, right?”

Then he continued to build his case, “No, I’m totally serious. These are domestic rats. I had them for pets when I was a kid. They’re really sociable, good with kids, clean, cost $3 and only live about 2 years. Rats are a low-commitment pet.”

Somehow our pre-martial sessions didn’t cover appropriate pet options, but I liked the idea of a $3, low-commitment pet.

And with the understanding that I would not have to see, smell, touch or care for these little rodents, I reluctantly agreed.

After about a week, we began to notice that our two newly purchased rats, Snowball and Charlie, were looking a little plump. Gregg took them to the vet (yes, a vet for rats. Suddenly our $3 investment was ballooning).

Apparently, my children had chosen two pregnant rats and within a couple of weeks following our minimal, low-commitment pet purchase, we became the proud owners of 16 rats!

Petco agreed to take the babies from us, but not until they were weaned…eight weeks later!

Then my husband left town on a business trip.

The rats that were supposedly a low-commitment pet that I didn’t have to see, smell, touch or care for, now became my responsibility.

My children were a great help, but at the time they were only 6, 4 and 1 years of age so they could only do so much. We developed a routine that seemed to work. They held and entertained the two mommies while I cared for all 14 of the little babies.

Everything was going well and running smooth, until something went terribly wrong – and I mean it REALLY WENT WRONG!

One afternoon while attending to my daily “rat duty”, the baby rats began jumping out of their crate! Like oil popping in a pan, these little critters saw an opportunity to escape and took it. They were quick, too, and one by one they began bolting out of the room.

I’d catch one and then lose two.

I literally had 16 tiny rats running unrestrained in my home – dodging through doors, slipping under beds.

I was living a nightmare!

After much time, many attempts and on the brink of physical exhaustion, I gave up and went to bed.

NO WAY! Not an option – EVER!

I would not dare close my eyes if there were even the slightest chance of those 16 rats invading my bed and crawling on me during the night. Even if it meant staying up all night, I refused to rest until all of the rats were eradicated from our living spaces and confined to their crates.

It took some time, diligence, perseverance and hard work, but with the help of a friend, together we were finally able to corral all of the rats, securing them safely back in their crates.

Which got me thinking…

What would my life look like if I applied the same amount of diligence to tending my heart?

How fiercely do I protect my heart from the little creatures seeking to run unrestrained?

How ruthless am I to catch the ugly thoughts and attitudes that daily creep into my heart and spill into my home?

The Song of Solomon admonishes us,

Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards.

Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom. Song of Solomon 2:15

God created us to flourish!

To abound in fruitfulness.

But it’s often our neglect of tending our vineyard that hinders our fruitfulness for God.

It’s the little foxes (or in my case, the rats) we fail to catch – pests that wreak havoc in our lives spoiling our relationships and our ability to be fruitful for Christ.

These little critters spoil our hearts, spilling damage into our homes.

“Little foxes” like…

  • Complaining (Numbers 11:1-2; Philippians 2:14)
  • Fear (Isaiah 41:10)
  • Worry (Matthew 6:25-33)
  • Gossip (Psalm 19:14)
  • Discouragement (Joshua 1:5-9)
  • Unforgiveness (Ephesians 4:32)

At first glance, they may not seem so bad. In fact, the tendency is often to justify their presence. Sometimes I even find myself making excuses for their activity in my life, minimizing their influence on my heart and family.

But don’t be fooled, they will destroy. They will ravage and spoil your heart and before you know it, your life – instead of flourishing and fruitful – will have a stench like when something goes bad in your refrigerator or a loose rat that dies in one of your walls.

Dear friend, tend your vineyard! Catch the little foxes. Don’t allow them to ravage your heart and wreak havoc in your home.

As you’re diligent to do this, God’s truth will begin to transform you.

Then your life will flourish with a fruitfulness that germinates the presence of God to those around you.

Not the stink of a rotting vineyard, but a pleasant aroma drawing others to Christ.

For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 2 Corinthians 2:15 

What little foxes do you need to catch? What is a corresponding scripture you can use to corral that critter and keep the vineyard of your heart and home clean?

Contagiously Clean

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. Luke 5:12-13

Leprosy is a horrible disease that affects the skin destroys the nerve endings, making its victim unable to feel anything. Sores break out on the skin and when they begin to ulcerate, the smell is horrible. Those diagnosed with leprosy were declared “unclean” in the Jewish culture, and because leprosy was contagious, those who contracted it were forbidden to live in the community. They were considered outcasts and even those who touched them would also be considered unclean.

In this Bible story, Luke tells us that this man was covered in leprosy. Imagine the disfigurement. Sense the stench coming from his body. Feel the fear that gripped people as they saw this man enter the community, their community – a community filled with their children and the people they loved. And this man had the audacity to enter their midst, with his body decaying and oozing leprosy in their town.

What would you do? How would you treat this man? Honestly, I would grab my kids and run. Sadly, I don’t think I would even try to be kind or compassionate; I’d be more concerned about staying away from him.

Most likely this man was used to rude treatment, insensitive comments, fearful gazes and people shrinking back in his presence. He had lived as an outcast, rejected by society, a disgrace to his family, and shunned in the Jewish culture.

In desperation, as a last resort, this man musters a shred of hope and cries out to Jesus, “If you are willing…”

Notice that he didn’t say, “If you are able…” This man knew rejection. He wore the scars of shame. He lived in the shadows as an outcast—unloved, unwanted, unaccepted and avoided by people. His concern wasn’t in Christ’s ability. It was Jesus’ willingness to help him.

Would Jesus help someone like me?

Could Jesus love – or even kinda care about – someone like me?

And Jesus responds by touching him.

What a tender moment Luke captures! Jesus touched the man before he cleansed him. He drew near to this man while he was still unclean, still an outcast, still unacceptable, still avoided by society. Jesus identifies with him by becoming unclean himself before He heals him.

Is your story any different? Not really. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul reminds us that

God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

It is in our uncleanliness, in our pain, in our ugliness that Jesus extends His love to cleanse and heal our lives. In our awkwardness and feeling alienated from God, Jesus reaches out to us and does a beautiful thing.

He becomes sin for us, sharing our pain, taking the burden of our shame upon Himself.

Sin, like leprosy, isolates us, cloaking us in shame. Even more importantly, it isolates us from God. It’s highly contagious – running unrestrained and rampant in our world like chicken pox in an elementary school.

Shame tells us that what we’ve done is too bad to be forgiven, that our mistakes are irreparable and our failures are unrecoverable. Shame whispers to us that our lives are beyond repair.

But to the contrary, Jesus is contagiously clean. Anything He touches is restored. Anything in His presence is transformed, made holy, righteous and whole. In His light, the darkness of shame begins to recede, making way for truth. Pure, hope-full, grace-filled truth!

Our failures become opportunities for growth, our mistakes are forgiven, leaving us to experience His abundant grace generously, and undeservedly poured out to us.

You don’t have to shrink back in fear; you no longer have to live isolated, bound by sin and cloaked in shame.

You don’t have to doubt God’s willingness to cleanse you.

In Christ, you are clean.

What fear, failure or feeling of shame keeps you from believing the truth that, in Christ, you are clean?

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7