Read to the end for a moving song inspired by this scene from the Gospel of Luke.
“And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 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.” —Luke 7
Every Sunday, we gather around a table like the one at this unnamed Pharisee’s house. We are like the Pharisee, the other guests, the unnamed woman. Like them, we bring more or less that needs forgiving, more or less gratitude and grief and joy, more or less love.
This woman and Jesus invite us to consider the more. What would our lives be like as, like them, we brought more?
As we gather around the Table together—a table abundant with the more that Jesus brought, all of himself, all of God’s self—we hear these words, sometimes spoken, sometimes chanted.
It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and praise to you, almighty and merciful God, through our Savior Jesus Christ.
“Our duty and our joy”—both. Some times and some places, our thanks and praise is more an act of duty. In others, more an act of joy. Can we agree that the woman with the alabaster jar—and the tears, the kisses, the more, the too much—gave her thanks and praise as joy, much more than duty?
How would you describe a time you acted out of duty? For me, it’s sometimes been glassy-eyed or teeth-clenched compliance that masks an inner rebellion. Or the dramatic harrumph of a teenager finally taking out the trash after being asked for the tenth time. (I’m learning to meet moments like these with Jesus’ prayer, “Not my will, but yours be done.”)
How about joy? Zion gained a new vision of joy, in the visit Joseph and I made to Kirangare, Tanzania. That’s why baby Joy is named Joy.
And of course, duty can turn, despite ourselves, into joy. I remember being a young person in church, about 16 years old. I went on my own, because my family did not go. This was part of a years-long process of a new joy hatching from the containing shell of duty. I remember one of our youth group leaders at the time saying he sometimes did not want to come back on Sunday, to be present and lead youth group. But the commitment he made to us—duty!—would rouse him, and always he would return home glad he had gone—joy!
I’m sure you know the feeling. That joy is a sign we truly were in Christ’s presence.
I like to think that Pharisee who hosted this scene, who was so disgusted by the woman with the alabaster jar, and who Jesus so gently and firmly schooled… I like to think he later discovered joy himself. What else would there be after discovering his grave sin against the woman’s love for Jesus and after discovering her and Jesus’ joyful forgiveness?
This year, I’m bringing joy into the stewardship season. So I will raise my 2023 pledge from $702 a month to $774. Just as my family’s cost of living has gone up, so has Zion’s. But more than that, I’m grateful for Zion sending me to Tanzania, for God’s daily blessings, and that in 2023, Zion will make at least two small but potent changes to its budget—integrating the Food Pantry and Community Assistance giving and adding a modest monthly gift to Kirangare. Stay tuned for more about these later.
And in addition, I will set aside $500 for the Thank Offering on November 20 for the renewal of our Kirangare companionship. Instead of giving physical things to many this Christmas—things they don’t need and the earth doesn’t have to give—I will make gifts in their name for Kirangare’s Vocational Training Center and the Mwanga School for the Deaf.
These are ways that I—in the words of the Rend Collective below—”bow my life” at Jesus feet, like the woman with the alabaster jar. And what a joy that we get to bow our lives together.
Thanks be to God.
Pastor Clark Olson-Smith