Do you get frustrated with call centres? When you are trying to sort some kind of problem and your call gets answered by someone who has such a thick accent that you cannot understand what they are saying? It’s very difficult not to sound racist when what you want to ask is ‘can I have someone to speak to who I can understand?’ Of course you don’t say this, it would not be politically correct.
Political correctness does have its place: it does bring us up short when we might inadvertently cause offence, it does remind us that actually what we say matters. A friend of mine was preaching in Chorleywood about political correctness, he said that nowadays because of political correctness the only kind of racist joke that people did not get upset about was jokes at the expense of French people. My friend was saying this to highlight the fact that it didn’t matter what the colour of the person was, it was still an offence, but at the end of the service a gentleman said to him ‘Know what you mean about the French’.
In this town it is perfectly normal, everyday even, for people to make jokes, which are often more offensive than funny, about chavs, about gypsies and about people of Pakistani heritage. When Bennetts End is referred to as Bennettstan it is not meant in a complimentary way. Whether the jokes or disparaging remarks are towards chavs, gypsies or people of Pakistani heritage the underlying message is the same, we are better than you, we can look down on you and make jokes at your expense.
Of course there is nothing new in this. In Jesus’ time it was not chavs or gypsies but rather women, poor people, tax collectors, Samaritans (a racist issue) and prostitutes- these were the groups who were considered inferior by people like Simon the Pharisee.
Simon was a respectable man, a man that you might aspire to be like, he had a job, he had a reasonably sized house, he was religious and upright and so it was acceptable, normal, everyday even for him to look down on the prostitute who entered his house and sat at Jesus’ feet. When Jesus did not shake off the woman as Simon would have done, he judged that Jesus too was inferior to him, Simon concluded that Jesus didn’t have the same high standards that he did, that Jesus had been contaminated by the woman’s contact and that Jesus could not therefore possibly be the prophet he claimed to be.
We see that Simon is the villain of this piece so we naturally try and distance ourselves from him. We’re not like that. Are we? We would never make disparaging remarks about people who live locally who don’t share our white British culture, we would never walk past someone selling the Big Issue and completely ignore them as if they were of no value, we would never sit silently whilst someone slams the whole of the gypsy community as thieves. Would we?
If we call ourselves Christians then we are called to follow Christ and his example. What would he do? What did he do? Can you put yourself in Jesus’ sandals for a moment? Jesus is more holy then you, even on your best day, Jesus always resists temptation, always chooses pure over debauched. But at this moment he is not just face to face but overwhelmed by a prostitute. Let us not sentimentalise her, this is not someone who sinned by coveting her neighbours garden, or who wasn’t too keen on tithing her money, this was a woman who had a sin-soaked lifestyle.
How did Jesus not pull away from her, as Simon would have done, how did he react towards her without revulsion?
Because he loved her. He didn’t love what she was doing, but he loved her. And he didn’t just feel compassion towards her, he acted in love. He accepted her offering, her tears that washed his feet and her wiping her hair around him, he did not reject her but accepted her. Please hear this, it is really important, she was a sinful woman, Jesus accepted her just as she was. He loved her. And almost unbelievably he also applauded her publically. Can you imagine how that woman must have felt? She knew she was a sinner. She knew what Simon thought of her. But Jesus, the only one who would have had the right to condemn her, does the opposite, he treated her with honour and respect, he treated her as if she was someone of value, not a nobody.
I so admire this about Jesus, that he who had the right to treat everyone as inferior to him, always does the opposite, he seeks only to build up and encourage. Jesus isn’t so obviously building up Simon in what he says, we might assume that Jesus is trying to shame Simon and humiliate him, punish him for his behaviour, but perhaps we need to look at that assumption afresh.
Perhaps Simon needed to be shown that he was being vile. Perhaps Jesus was in fact doing Simon a favour too, helping him to see how badly he was treating others. If Simon could have been open to Jesus’ wisdom he could have changed and become not just religious, but also godly.
Do we need Jesus to show us where we are being behaving badly? Who do we regard as inferior to us? Who do we treat as if they are of no consequence?
This is not about me pointing the finger at anyone. We are on this journey together, we all stand before God and if we are open to Jesus’ wisdom we can all learn how to be not just religious, but more godly.
Jesus challenged Simon and he challenges us today. Follow me and learn from my example, bring encouragement and love, not judgement or condemnation, in the power of the Spirit and for the glory of God. Amen.