Setting: Jesus’ Table Meals vs. Religious Broker’s Table Meals. These meals clashed at Simon the Pharisee’s House (See: Luke 7). In this story we find a 1st century religious elitist named Simon extending a shared meal invitation to Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus accepts, and journey to Simon’s house.
I can easily imagine Jesus facing his inner-circle of friends and trying to explain why he can’t join them at the evening meal, as originally planned.
“Sorry, friends,” I can see him saying, “I can’t make it tonight. I’m going to Simon the Pharisee’s house to share a meal.”
“You’re going where? What did you say…?”
“Simon the Pharisee’s … I’m going to have a meal with him.”
“Why in the world would you do …”
“Brothers,” he interrupts, “You already know why.”
“… but you know what they talk about at these meals!”
“Yes, yes I do.” Jesus replies, “That is why I am going.”
Jesus is very much aware that the dinner conversation is going to be drastically different from those he shares with disciples, tax-collectors, prostitutes, expendables, and the generally “unclean” people dotting Israel’s landscape. Jesus, at his meals, usually breaks bread over new ideas and concepts. Tonight, at Simon’s gathering, he will most likely be defending them.
I can see Jesus walking toward Simon’s gathering. He is almost there, a few feet, maybe fifty, away from the entrance. As he draws nearer, he becomes authentically surprised at the lack of audible communal celebration … was there anyone even there? It seems so quiet … so contrived … so hushed.
“Ahhhhh…,” a frustrated breath escapes as he forces himself through the entrance and notices one of the guests darting off to alert Simon of his arrival.
“Rabbi,” Simon announces from across the room as he makes his way to the table to expel another of his guests, “Welcome to my home. Please, take your place at the table.”
“Well, he was sitting there wasn’t he?” Jesus responds.
“Rabbi,” Simon politely but forcefully retorts, “Please, this is yours, take your place.”
So, Jesus, curiously watching Simon take his own place on a mat directly to his the left, cautiously lowers himself to his own mat.
“I’m glad you could make it teacher,” Simon says.
“Thank you,” Jesus responds while reaching for a piece of bread, “Thank you for inviting me.”
Then … silence … An awkward sort of silence. Jesus reaches for another piece of the loaf; Simon goes for a sip of wine. In the process the pair’s eyes lock, followed quickly by a brief and uncomfortable stare … Then it is thwarted by more … silence.
Jesus is walking into a dinner held by his ideological antagonists. He has most likely been invited to clarify, defend, or perhaps even change his opinions. Jesus knows this … and he sits, uncomfortably, waiting for Simon to toss his first dart. Which of these men’s visions would win out this evening? Who would be right? Who would be wrong? Would Jesus’ vision survive a house filled with antagonists? Would Simon, in front of all his guests, finally prove that this “Jesus” is the crack-pot he suspected him to be?
But before either can begin the debate, a woman, crying hysterically and grasping an alabaster jar as if her life depended upon it, bursts onto the scene.
Through her tears she spots Jesus and Simon reclined at the table. The presence of both of them together reminds her of the serious choice she is about to make. She thought she had already figured this all out, but both of them sitting there - representing what they do - forces a quick mental review.
There is Jesus representing his open table and unconditional opportunity of un-brokered love and a living relationship with God. She remembers fondly the words he spoke at a similar but drastically different meal a few days back in the home of one of her friends.
“God loves me, Jesus said so,” she thinks to herself, “Just as I am right here, right now … God loves and accepts me. There is no need for these spiritual middle-men. No need for sacrifices. No need for obscure asceticism to make me the child of God I am. There is no longer a need for me to think of myself as a divinely unlovable â€“ or damned - human being. God already loves me; God always has.”
The Pharisee, Simon, is there too, offering the original vision of strict adherence to Law and Holiness. This woman is all too familiar with what Simon is selling. She has tried it … time and time and time again, only to fail miserably and develop chronic illnesses - her back still hurts. She vividly remembers the chats Simon has held at various tables around town.
“God,” she thinks as she reminds herself of Simon’s offer, “can only - because of his unbelievable righteousness and utter disdain for sinners - accept those who have cleansed themselves through obedience to the Law and the tradition. Don’t even think about approaching the Almighty until you have ceremonially cleansed yourself from your terrible sins, fasted the required two days, and kept yourself from the defiling presence of the enemies of our God … the reprobate. We are here if you need more information … Glory be to Yahweh for the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrificial system … without which the people would be lost.”
Ah! How could she question her decision for even a split second! She knew why she was here; her alabaster jar of oil had a predetermined purpose. It was for Jesus … the one who offered the most authentic of meals. After all, the point of Jesus’ meal is the radical acceptance and love of God for people … and Jesus indeed introduced the most unlikely of people to this love. She is one of those unlikely people. The point of Simon’s meal was non-acceptance. It was an ill balanced springboard into a turbulent, chaotic, and manic existence. “God accepts me … God doesn’t accept me … God accepts me … God doesn’t accept me … God accepts me …God doesn’t accept me … God accepts me … God doesn’t accept me …”
It was a meal that you never, ever finished eating.
The woman, snapping back to her senses, looks up, and surveys the two men once more … which meal would she dine upon for the rest of her life … Jesus of Nazareth’s or Simon’s? The two tables could not be more set and in front her - demanding a choice - than they are right now.
She chooses …
So shall we! What table to do want to offer people? What meal will we place in front of our friends and neighbors?