WHEN A BABY CRIES
I Kings 21:1-10, Psalm 5, Luke 7:36&ff.
June 14, 1998 by Tad Mitsui
Now that the Sunday School is over for the summer, probably today is the last day to see a baby in the worship service until September. We all love babies. But in the church? It is a dilemma. Isn”t it? We all wish that many Moms come to church with babies. But we hope that babies keep quiet, which, of course, is impossible. We are delighted, annoyed, and embarrassed by the way the babies behave in the church, because they make it quite clear how they feel and what they want, very loudly.
I don”t think that the babies are doing anything wrong. It is only we think that they don”t have manners, and that”s our problem, not babies”. We have to have manners in the civilized adult society for sure. That, I think, is the problem, because good manners also can hide truth. Babies have no such problem. I sometimes wish that we could all be honest like babies. Jesus ran into a woman who expressed her gratitude in a manner which was embarrassingly explicit and intimate. But he had an eyes to see genuine faith behind an embarrassing gesture of a person who did not behave in a socially acceptable way.
One day, Jesus was invited to a dinner with a Pharisee by the name of Simon. Reading the scripture carefully, we realize that it was more a party than it was a private dinner. For one thing, there was at least one woman who the host had not invited. That means that there were many guests moving freely about in Simon”s house. Secondly, the verb used to describe Jesus” position at the table "to take" can also be translated as "recline". Only Jesus and the host were at the table in the reclining position. It meant that Jesus was the honoured guest according to the custom of the Palestine at the time. Other guests were on their feet moving about freely with food in their hands.
What happened next sounds enormously embarrassing. A woman, who was known in town as a sinner, stood at Jesus” feet, and started to cry profusely. She cries so hard that tears poured on to Jesus” feet. Noticing that his feet were getting wet with her tears, she sat down and started to wipe away her tears with her unbound hair. She also started kissing his feet and putting perfumed oil on them. A bare foot is a private body part even for us. It is much more so for Jewish people. Orthodox Jews wear their peculiar style of clothes, with their pants tucked into their socks, to make sure that they do not to expose any part of their feet. You can imagine how disconcerting this display appeared.
This woman was known in town as a sinner. The Scripture does not say what kind of sin she committed. As the word "sin" is the same word as "debt" in the Biblical language, she could have been someone who was indentured for the unpaid debt. She was a person forced to live in shame, who might have fallen to a status of a slave. She could well have been a prostitute, too. At any rate, it must have been a very embarrassing scene with such an explicit display of affection in public, especially by a person of ill repute, and also especially by a person of opposite sex. But Jesus accepted her ways and let her do it.
People must have been appalled and embarrassed. The host even rebuked Jesus for allowing such a shameful behaviour. "How dare you allow this to happen in my house!" Pharisees were the lawyers committed to uphold the moral standard of the society. So it was a slap in the fact of this upright Simon, who wanted to honour a famous teacher and a prophet. It was an event which would have boosted his already high standing in society. But this! The intended honoured guest disgraced the occasion and ruined his good name by accepting a shameful display of uninhibited affection from a prostitute.
To his host”s surprise, Jesus pointed out to the Pharisee how much this woman had to struggle to come to a public event at a respectable household, and to do what she did. She did it in the only way she could think of. She had to come so far. So, as she approached him, Jesus did not shy away from her. She must have felt Jesus” unconditional acceptance. A powerful force of gratitude overtook her. It took the last bit of inhibition away from her as the situation developed from the time she stood near Jesus. He did not pull away his feet as her tears started to drop on them, as she unbound her hair to wipe the moisture from them, and even as she started to hold the feet in her hands and kiss them. He let her continue. Jesus appreciated such uninhibited show of devotion more than what Simon offered to him, no matter how inappropriate it might have appeared.
So what”s the point of today”s story? The point is that Jesus appreciates the distance you travel more than the place you stand. Today” story is just one of many that illustrate this. Jesus valued an offering of two small coin pieces from a widow more than an extravagant donation of a rich man, because that was all she had while it was spare money for the man. Jesus appreciated the faith of a sinner who stood at the door of the Temple who prayed, "I am a sinner. I am not worthy to come to your presence." But he did not think too much of a Pharisee, who always sat at the front seat who was convinced that he was naturally acceptable to God because he always followed every letter of the law.
When a baby cries, it is the most genuine form of prayer. It is uninhibited and spontaneous expression of what a baby feels and wants. Nobody may understand it. Everybody is annoyed and embarrassed, or even gets angry. But a mother understands and accepts baby”s cry. God understands our honest cry no matter how inappropriate it may appear in our eyes. Jesus understood and appreciated a sinner”s offering of tears and oil on his feet. He risked his social standing by accepting the inappropriate offering. But he said that it was the most precious offering of faith he had seen. Jesus looks at us with the same unconditional love. No matter how far we have come, no matter how awkward our approach, we are welcomed, too. Thanks be to God.