Fourth Sunday of Pentecost: Galatians 2:1 5-21 and Luke 7:36-50
Peace be with you!
In the musical Les Miserables, Jean Valjean is an ex-convict whose crime was stealing a piece of bread for a starving relative. Upon coming out of prison, Valjean is determined to turn away from the harsh life of prison and help those in need no matter the consequences. However, Valjean’s old ways die hard; he breaks parole and changes his name to hide from the authorities. Over time, he becomes owner of a factory where he gives women jobs to support their families. Javert is the police inspector who released Valjean after warning him what would happen if he broke the law again. Javert believes the law comes before anything else in life. When he finds Valjean after years of thinking he was dead, Javert is determined to bring him back into custody.
Reflection Questions: Is it ever okay to break the law or social standards? Should the law be upheld no matter what?
Paul is writing to the Galatians because the Jewish Christians are telling them they have to earn their way into heaven by doing good works. The Jewish Christians believe that they have to be justified by their works. They have to keep the laws handed down to them by Moses and their ancestors. Paul points out that if we believe keeping the law can justify us, then Jesus died for nothing (Galatians 2:21). The truth is that we cannot uphold the law on our own. Our sinful nature has been crucified through Jesus, and now we can have new life and know God the Father.
Reflection Questions: Why is it difficult to accept our brokenness and need for Jesus?
In Luke 7:36-50, Simon is outraged by Jesus allowing a sinful woman to be at his feet. As a Pharisee, Simon keeps sinners, the unclean, at a distance. Simon projects a negative identity and value to individuals who he perceives to be sinners. To Simon, the woman adds no value to society, and it would have been better if she stayed away. In today’s world, we do not always go around calling others sinners, though we do still pass judgments on others based on race, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, economic standing, and [whatever “it” is] that creates a divide. We project an identity and a value on others based on our own narrow thoughts and opinions. For instance, many people upon meeting me think I have a cognitive disability based on my spastic movements and my unfamiliar speech pattern. These people project an image onto me based on their own opinions.
Reflection Questions: How have you been judged by others?
In Luke 7:40-50, Jesus calls Simon out on his judgment against the woman, the sinner. Jesus asks Simon, “If a creditor canceled the debts of two debtors, which one loves him more?” (see Luke 7:41-42). Simon answers, “The one who owes more,” and Jesus says, “You are correct” (see Luke 7:43). Jesus points out that the woman has bathed and anointed his feet, while Simon has done nothing to welcome him (Luke 7:44-46). Jesus says the woman is forgiven of her many sins, and therefore she expresses great love for the Lord (Luke 7:47-48, 50). We all fall short and sin against the Lord. We have all been the woman in the story who was judged. We have all needed to apologize for something we have done. We have all felt unworthy of someone’s forgiveness, yet we took a chance and asked someone to forgive us.
Reflection Questions: Why is it difficult to seek forgiveness? How do you seek forgiveness from someone else?
We have also been Simon and the others at the table who questions how someone could forgive someone who has hurt another person. We have all felt the sting of betrayal, the bitterness of being crossed, and [whatever “it” is] that hurt us. Sometimes it seems inconceivable to forgive a person.
Reflection Questions: Why is it so difficult to forgive a person? What makes some betrayals harder to forgive than others?
However, Jesus forgives even the inconceivable sins when we humbly repent. Jesus understands we are broken—unable to live according to God’s will without an intervention. Jesus understands he has to provide a way for us to be right and in a relationship with God the Father. Jesus willingly dies on the cross for the redemption of our sins. Jesus gives us a chance to have a personal relationship with God the Father through his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Therefore, despite our inconceivable sins, we can join Jesus at the table to share a meal with him. We are able to be know God’s love and to call upon him at any time. We are able to express God’s love to others, because we know the power of forgiveness.
Paul writes that the Galatians are justified by their faith in Jesus Christ who died for their sins on the cross. There is no way anyone can earn their way into heaven on their own merit (Galatians 2:16). If we live according to the law, we are dead (Galatians 2:19) because we cannot fulfill the law on our own. In Luke 7:36-39, Simon treats the woman as though she is dead and has no right to be in contact with Jesus (making him unclean), and yet Jesus forgives her; her current actions speak to her repentance. Like the woman, we have skeletons in our closets too. We have broken our relationship with God the Father, yet we are able to be forgiven through Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection.
Reflection Questions: When have you had to seek forgiveness from Jesus? How did it feel to need forgiveness? Did anyone say you did not deserve forgiveness?
Paul calls the Galatians to live by faith in Jesus Christ who gave up his life out of love for them (Galatians 2:20). God did not have to send Jesus to die for our sins, but he loves us so deeply he gives us eternal life in him. There is nothing we can do to undo his love for us. By living in faith, we receive the gift of life given to us through Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. In Luke 7:44-46, the woman lives out her faith through a selfless act of washing and anointing Jesus’s feet. She humbly seeks forgiveness, even when she has no right to. Jesus tells the woman, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:48, 50 NRSV). Jesus sends the woman out into the world with his peace—the love and mercy of God.
Reflection Questions: How do you live out your faith? How have you felt Jesus’s peace in the world?
In Les Miserables, Valjean and Javert meet in different situations over the years. Somehow Valjean always escapes and goes into hiding until Javert finds him again. At one point Valjean has an opportunity to kill Javert, but he lets him go. Javert realizes Valjean lives by a different moral code than the strict law. Valjean strives to help those who cannot help themselves, even if it means breaking the law. This is what Paul is telling the Galatians. It is better to love each other than to judge one another. Forgiveness frees us from our past mistakes. Forgiveness grants us a second chance. Forgiveness moves us pass raw emotions in order to repair relationships with one another. When we forgive and love each other, we are living out our faith in Jesus Christ.
Reflection Questions: When have you challenged a law or social standard to help someone else?
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for having Jesus Christ die for our sins so we can have life. Help us to live according to your word, even if it means going against man-made laws. Accept our pleas for forgiveness as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Grant us your love, mercy, and peace through your son Jesus Christ. Amen.