New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Lamb of God
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The First Disciples of Jesus
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
On Tuesday, I was given a very powerful gift. I walked into the school office at the end of the day to get some long overdue work completed as I waited for our PTA event later that evening. There are always a few kids whose parents are running a little late and the regulars were sitting in the chairs reading their books and waiting for their parents. Amidst the small group was a mom I knew – being new to our school this year, I am still learning the parents! This parent had two kids at my previous school and so we had known each other from there. She had a baby last spring and I always ask to hold him when she comes to school. Tuesday was no exception – I greeted her and offered my arms to this sweet angel and rekindled my love affair with him on the spot! She had some small talk with me, then asked if she could speak to me privately; we headed back to my office with her sweet pumpkin in my arms. Her other two weren’t with her at the time of our conversation when she asked me a favor. She needed to leave her car and wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be towed from our school parking lot. After some gentle probing, she shared she was out of gas and money and planned to walk home with her three children; one infant, one with a brain injury and a kindergartner (the older two still in their car seats in the parking lot). The short version of this story is that I had a choice Tuesday afternoon. As a school principal, I quickly agreed to make sure her car was safe. As a Christian, I had to take it a step further. It was one of the best afternoons I can remember once I made the decision to embrace this encounter and lend a hand. She made it home in her car that day with hopefully one less worry on her plate.
Every day, we have encounters with Christ in our regular lives. My little encounter this week wasn’t on the agenda of my carefully planned out day. My opportunity wasn’t specific to my faith, but my choice was made easier because if it. John and the disciples had choices to make as they encountered Jesus. The historical context of describing Jesus as the “Lamb of God” was a descriptor that meant a great deal to the Jews. Before Christ the Messiah was crucified for our sins, the faithful used animal sacrifice as their method of forgiveness from God. Jesus’ place in the Kingdom of God was so significant as to negate the need for this ritual that was embedded into the traditions of the faithful. I’m going to guess that I would have been pretty skeptical of such a drastic attempt at change based on my track record. But the disciples embraced Jesus as the Messiah, and the encounter was life changing for them. They walked away from their families and their roles in the community to follow Jesus on a wild adventure. They embraced the encounter in a way that makes sense today, but must have seemed incredibly unusual and quite risky with benefits that would be hard to see at the time to the casual observer.
The opportunities may not be so dramatic and might not cause us to so drastically change the course of our lives, but they are present and give us the chance to serve in ways we never imagined. And if you are like me, you may miss them if you focus on YOUR plans, YOUR agenda and YOUR comfort level. My opportunity on Tuesday didn’t cost me much money or time, but the rewards I received knowing I could be the right person at the right time to help someone in need were immeasurable. When she thanked me, I thanked her too. She didn’t approach me to make me feel good, but I was so enriched by the experience. Sometimes God has plans for us that don’t align with our vision for ourselves. Taking the risk to embrace the encounters put in our paths can enrich us beyond imagination. Where is God working in your life to get your attention?
Lamb of God, Giver of Gifts and Knower of Needs, I pray for families in need. May I always be open to responding to any encounters where I can serve you through others and know that you will continue to challenge me to show love to all I meet. Thank you for trusting me to do your work in the world. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
A Sinful Woman Forgiven
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Some Women Accompany Jesus
8 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
I was at the hair salon yesterday. This was one of those LONG appointments where I had several steps of service followed by periods of waiting for the next step. This always means that my hairdresser is serving several clients at once, sometimes with interesting conversations! Yesterday, there was a gal there who is on the same “schedule” as I am and our paths have crossed before. She was reading the newest edition of “People” magazine as she waited for her turn and the cover story was about some of the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing. I only briefly glanced at the cover as she waved it to show our hairdresser – it showed a picture of three beautiful women who had all lost limbs in that terrible tragedy. This other client was incensed and she began a rant about immigration, terrorists and punishment, while sadly noting the ruin of these three ladies’ lives.
When I read today’s Gospel reading in preparation for this blog, I immediately felt the peace that comes from forgiveness. Hear me….I am not a believer in forgetting the crimes that have happened to absolutely innocent victims in our country and around the world. But I am working very hard on forgiveness as a personal choice. As I listened to the conversation in the hair salon yesterday, my internal dialogue (because I learned a long time ago that the hair salon is a dangerous place to engage with strangers who differ from you in beliefs) went in a completely different direction. This client stated that we should strap a bomb to the surviving accused man and set it off, letting him suffer without any medical treatment. That should be his “punishment,” she said.
I couldn’t believe the venom and the malice, but I understand feeling helpless in the face of tragedy. It doesn’t always bring out the best in us, as I saw yesterday and we see every day in our interactions with others. Luke’s Gospel story for today addresses forgiveness in two different ways. One of the ways Jesus shows and teaches about forgiveness is to give grace and mercy to the woman who serves him with the ointment on his feet and using her hair, weeping at the presence of Jesus. Undeserving the Pharisees – yes. The good news is we don’t have to do anything to DESERVE forgiveness. We just get this free gift because of our relationship with Christ.
The second way Jesus teaches about forgiveness is in his conversation with Simon. His message is about forgiving all sins, no matter the debt – no matter the seriousness. This really speaks to me and has, ever since I heard a sermon while visiting a church on our last vacation. Forgiveness isn’t incremental to the sin – it just is forgiveness. I have no idea if the “Boston Bomber” as he is called has sought forgiveness or has any understanding of Christ’s love for each of us. But what I know that I have to do a better job with is forgiving others…no matter what. Not conditional in any way and man, that is HARD to do. I need to do it even when it is not asked of me. I need to do it even when I am hurt, sad or mad. This is not a pansy way of just letting folks walk all over me, but really about bravely approaching my call to follow the Great Commission:
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We are called to go out in the world and teach others to do what God has commanded. If forgiveness is what is expected of us as we are forgiven (John 13:34 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”) by God, then love needs to be the lens we use to examine our world and all that we do and is done to us. Wishing pain and misery on our enemies just feels bad, and bad thoughts beget bad thoughts and even bad actions.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is “Be the change you want to see in the world,” by Ghandi. I can’t sit in my comfy house and wish that everyone was kinder and nice to one another, more forgiving and merciful and more full of love for all mankind. I have to go out and fulfill the Great Commission myself, hopefully living out the change I want to see in the world. God forgives us our most grievous sins and our smallest missteps. We should be striving to do the same – even when it’s hard.
Forgiving Father, we come to you not worthy of your grace and mercy. We humbly ask your forgiveness for all our wrongdoing and ask you to send your Holy Spirit to guide us in our work in the world. Send us out to do the work you have given us to do and help us to love one another as you have loved us, unconditionally. We ask all things through our mighty Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN.