Scripture Reading: Luke 7:36-50
This is not exactly a straightforward dinner invitation. It comes from Simon, a Pharisee, and it comes after a progression of encounters between the law-keeping Pharisees and Jesus, who is clearly not what the Pharisees expect of a teacher.
The Pharisees are, at first, clearly puzzled and mildly alarmed at the things Jesus does. They accuse Him of blasphemy when He heals and forgives the paralytic. They grumble that Jesus eats with a tax collector. They see Him as unlawful when He and His disciples pick grain and eat it on the Sabbath. However, when Jesus heals on the Sabbath, publically and in front of everyone, the Pharisees are “furious” and begin “to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.” (Luke 6:11). The next encounter comes after Simon’s invitation to dinner.
In the context of all that has already happened, it seems clear that eating at Simon’s house will not be a simple social call. By inviting Jesus to a formal dinner, the Pharisee is inviting Jesus into a context in which a certain decorum is expected and religious debate is encouraged. It probably seems like a perfect place to trap Jesus. And Simon’s lack of proper welcome might just betray his true motives. But Jesus knows Simon’s heart and is ready to use this opportunity to show him a better way.
When the woman from the town enters the dinner, something rare and amazing happens. This woman, whom the Bible says lived a “sinful life,” in essence displaces Simon as host of the dinner. And her welcome is beautiful! She lavishly pours out her love at Jesus’ feet, and Jesus graciously receives it and recognizes the value of her hospitality. Simon does not give Jesus water for washing; yet this woman wets Jesus’ feet with her tears. Simon does not welcome Jesus with a kiss; yet the woman even kisses his feet. Jesus restores her dignity by giving her a “place” of honour, receiving her gift, and forgiving her sins.
And yet, Jesus is also host. He cares for the woman and pours out that forgiveness generously. With Jesus, the roles are not clearly defined. They shift around, making both the act of giving and receiving equally important within the context of hospitality. Pharisees know all about law and truth. Jesus adds grace to the truth, to widen the welcome and create a climate of hospitality that pushes boundaries and overturns expectations.
Deacons, if hospitality sounds to you like the work of a committee, perhaps it is time to reclaim the practice within your diaconal work. It means being intentional about welcoming the stranger, but it also means affirming each person’s dignity and worth.
And yet, if this puts the deacon perpetually in the position of host, a critical dimension is lost. Jesus gave to the Pharisee and to the woman the gift of His wisdom, His grace and His forgiveness. However, Jesus was also guest: He received from the woman and from the Pharisee alike. This recognition fundamentally challenges the imbalance of power between a person with needs and a person (or diaconate) with resources.
Understanding that everyone has something to give and that everyone is blessed by receiving creates a welcome and hospitality that builds community, affirms dignity and maintains generous spaces of inclusion. Be blessed as you do justice through hospitality.
Slightly edited: http://diaconalministries.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Devotion-Set-2.pdf (image from St Peter's Rawdon)