One of my friends has the delightful habit of sending me New Yorker cartoons. Certainly one of the best features a man behind a bookstore counter on top of which is prominently featured Allen Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. He has a big smile on his face and says to the customer “I haven’t read it, but it’s a great book!”
Alas, that is too often a true reflection of how many Episcopalians actually relate to Holy Scripture.
It is such a fabulous book, but we only experience it when we learn to be Scripture students and spiritually attentive Bible readers.
Consider the story of when Simon the Pharisee has the preacher over for dinner (Luke 7:36-50). As for many a good Episcopalian, having the rector over is a big deal for Simon. Etiquette must be properly followed. Invitations must be carefully issued. Everything must be done in correct Anglican fashion, decently and in order.
Then a woman from the wrong side of the tracks crashes the party. She does not have an invitation, and she violates every protocol. Indeed, having messed up all those things, she cannot even give to Jesus the gift she wants to give him in the way she wants to give it. Her heart is so broken by the depth of Jesus’ love for her that when she simply gets behind him she starts crying, and then before you know it the ointment intended for his head ends up on his feet.
Simon is livid, and has a conversation with himself about Jesus’ failure to get upset and to follow the proper procedure when something like this happens.
But Jesus marches to a different drummer. “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing,” Pascal said, and Jesus not only spoke in but also heard the language of love. He saw more than what this woman was doing; he heard why she was doing it. She was loved, and wanted to find a way to say thank you.
Many a parent has accepted a very strange gift from a child with pleasure and joy — because it was given out of love. I remember Mom showing me early letters I had written. One of her favorites, written when I was about 6, read: “Dear Mom: I hate you. Love, Kendall.” There isn’t a parent reading this who doesn’t understand why my mother had it in the file.
Pleased about what the woman was doing, Jesus entered into Simon’s conversation with himself and told him a story. Two people owned someone money, one owed 5 million dollars, and the other 50,000. They both had all their debts erased. Who do you suppose was more grateful? Simon knew the answer and gave it.
Then Jesus commended the woman as a heroine in the kingdom of God to Simon. Do you see her, he said. She did what she did because she knew how completely she had made a mess of her life and therefore how profoundly God had forgiven her. As a result, she loved much and wanted to find a way to say it.
What a story. The heroine is a woman who has no name and no lines. That does not sound like a prescription for a successful play, does it, to have the key character without a name and with nothing to say?
But Jesus specialized in turning the world upside down. This woman has the real power that changes the world, the power of the Holy Spirit that enables her to be loved by God in Christ and then to seek no matter what to try to express it to others.
I hope to meet her in heaven some day. In the meantime I am going to plunge myself into the Bible and try to read it carefully and let it hit me with the full force God intends it to. It really is a great book.
--The Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall S. Harmon is editor of the Anglican Digest and Convenor of this blog
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