A sermon preached on June 16th, 2013, Father’s Day, based upon Luke 7:36 – 59.
At the outset of our story there is an “invitation only” dinner party – one in which, in the host’s mind — there distinctly isn’t room in the circle for everybody. Those invited to this party all have a lot in common: They are all Jewish men, knowledgeable in the Law, all reputable, honored members with some status in their community. Jesus is one of the guests.
Suddenly, a woman “who was a sinner” crashes the party because she has heard that Jesus is there. She falls down before him weeping, and proceeds to wash his feet with a peculiar mixture of her tears and perfume, and then to dry them with her hair.
She is, it would seem, as different from the invited guests at that party as she possibly could be. She is a woman, with few rights in their society. She has probably not studied the Law. She is totally alien to their dignified and reserved way of being in this world. She is flamboyant, wearing her emotions on her sleeves. And she is, we are told a “sinner,” in that she has publicly broken the laws of the Torah.
It would, however, be more accurate to say that it is not the fact that she is a “sinner” that distinguishes her from the men at the table. She is simply a different kind of sinner – one whose sin is more easily seen.
They too, are sinners. Their sin is more subtle, and ultimately more dangerous. Their sin resides in the hardness of their hearts – in their arrogance, their pride, their presumption to set themselves up as the judge of others.
Jesus does not reject the woman; he welcomes her embrace, her expression of love, messy though it may be, and loves her in return.
The host of the party passes judgment on the woman, and on Jesus for welcoming this woman so alien, so obviously sinful.
When I first looked at this passage my first reaction was, “Geez, it’s going to be tough to relate this somehow to Father’s Day!” But the women at the Wednesday Bible study helped me see that this wasn’t the case at all.
Our prime example of fatherhood is found in Jesus; his fatherly love is expressed clearly in this story.
Our faith tradition commonly refers to God – the one who gave us life – as “father,” which has inherent problems because each of us has our own frame of reference to fathers because of our, unique experience of a father. And since we human fathers are a flawed bunch, it can be tough to sort out what exactly we mean when we speak of our Father in heaven.
If, for instance, you had a father who resembled the man who hosted the dinner party, the image of God conjured up with the word “Father” might well be of someone whose love you yearned for, but never seemed to fully receive — of one who made you feel bad about yourself and the feelings you carried around inside you.
In the movie “Austin Powers” the evil villain is named – just so you won’t miss that he’s the villain – Dr. Evil. At one point his minions make him a clone. The clone is identical to Dr. Evil in every way with the one exception being that he is only one eighth the size of Dr. Evil. Upon being introduced to his clone, Dr. Evil declares, “Breathtaking. I shall call him… Mini-Me!”
In those of us who become Dads there is at least a bit of Dr. Evil within us. We look at the little baby we hold in our arms and we think we’re holding a “Mini-me” made in the image and likeness of ourselves; a “me” we hope will grow up to achieve more than we did, thereby bringing glory to ourselves, and validating our existence.
Before long, though, assuming we’re paying attention, we discover that this child we are raising isn’t a “Mini-me” at all, that our child is different from ourselves in quite significant ways.
Andrew Solomon spent ten years interviewing parents whose children were distinctly different from themselves in some major way. Parents of deaf children, of autistic children, of downs syndrome children, of dwarf children, of gay children.
He wrote a long book on what he learned, which you can find online condensed in a powerful Ted Talk entitled, “Love, No Matter What.” http://on.ted.com/NoMatterWhat Solomon was fascinated by the experience of such parents when they come to terms with the fact that their child is distinctly NOT a Mini-me.
He describes the tension lived out in various ways between the desire to somehow “cure” the child of the thing that makes the child different, and the need to ultimately “accept” the child for who they are.
He quotes a man with autism who has become an Autism activist who writes,
When parents say, “I wish my child didn’t have autism,” what they’re really saying is, “I wish the child I have didn’t exist, and I had a different, non-autistic child instead.” This is what we hear when you mourn over our existence. This is what we hear when you pray for a cure. That your fondest wish is that some day we will cease to be, and strangers that you can love will move in behind our faces.
Andrew Solomon recognizes this to be an extreme point of view for sure, but that there is something very important being expressed here.
There is progress being made on the medical front which might mean that someday there will be no deaf children, no children born dwarfs, nor autistic, nor with downs syndrome. And as wonderful as that may well be in a certain ways, should such a day come, there will be a great loss as well.
Solomon argues that we need this diversity of family – of parents who love children who are distinctly different from themselves — to strengthen kindness of this world.
He points out that the parents he studied are extreme forms of the experience of all parents – that all of us parents, at some point look at our children and wonder, “Where did you come from?!”
I would add to this that it is precisely when we recognize our children as distinctly different from what we would have chosen for them to be, and love them as they are, that we are most transparent to the love of the God that Jesus called our “Heavenly Father.”
Solomon points out that in the end, most parents do in fact love their children with their flaws, despite the time we invariably spend complaining about those flaws.
Part of the motivation for making this study came from the fact that Andrew Solomon is gay.
He begins with a brutal quote from Time magazine in 1966 written when he was a little boy that spoke authoritatively about homosexuality being “a pernicious thing, deserving no compassion,” expressing amazement at how far we’ve come as a society since those words were written.
He remembers as a boy of six going with his mother to buy shoes at the shoe store, at the end of which the salesman invited him to pick a balloon to take home. He choose the pink balloon. His mother proceeded to try to convince him that his favorite color was blue, and that he really wanted a blue balloon, but he continued to insist on the pink balloon.
He also remembered how his mother would often say:
“The love you have for your children is like no other feeling in the world. And until you have children you won’t understand how this feels.”
He said that when he grew into adolescence aware of himself as being gay, being different, he hated it when his mother would say this because he assumed that his sexual orientation meant he never would be a parent.
Later he married his partner, and they chose together to have children.
Solomon said that when he shared his decision with people, they would often ask him, “How can you decide to have children when you’ve been studying everything that could go wrong?”
His reply would be, “I’m not studying everything that could go wrong, I’m studying how much love there can be even when everything appears to be going wrong.”
When he became a father, Solomon experienced what his mother had told him, when she said “the love you have for your children is like no other feeling in the world.”
This past March 13th, a new pope — the “Holy Father” — was elected, who took the name Francis.
Just over two weeks later on Holy Thursday he washed and kissed the feet of twelve inmates of the Casal Del Marmo, a juvenile detention center. It was clear then that this was going to be a different kind of papacy. Many were shocked that two of the twelve young people were women, and even more disturbed that one of them was a Muslim.
The article I read on this reported the following response within the Church:
Traditionalists in the church were swift to criticize. “By disregarding his own law in this matter, Francis violates, of course, no divine directive,” wrote canon lawyer Edward Peters. “What he does do, I fear, is set a questionable example.” Chris Gillibrand, a British commentator, wrote on his blog, CathCon: “Given his active support for the charismatic movement in his diocese, one can only be concerned that he could be prepared to ordain women… How can the pope maintain discipline in the church if he himself does not conform himself to prevailing ecclesiastical legislation?” Patrick Archbold at Creative Minority Report agrees, “Something is profoundly wrong when the winds of change can blow so swiftly through an immutable institution of God’s own making.” (He is Violating Our Traditions,” John Jewell, Lectionary Tales, 2013.)
After the foot washing of the twelve incarcerated youth, and after celebrating the mass, Francis addressed the gathering in the gym of the penitentiary with these words: “…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)
So also Jesus sent the woman from Simon’s home with words of hope. “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” And in such he revealed the Father’s love.