Sermon June 12 -- Just Say No (Luke 7:36-47) Rev. Betsy Hogan
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
It's a quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt -- someone whom many people attempted to make "feel inferior" over the course of her life and impressive career as a human rights advocate --
And I've always liked to imagine that she managed, as often as possible, to refuse that consent. To exercise, in other words, the only power she had in the face of those who tried to insult her, ignore her, diminish her, make her feel inferior --
By just saying no. Having none of it. Declining to participate in the endeavour of her own belittlement by simply not accepting that paradigm: that she was ignorable because she wasn't pretty, or because she was an idealist, or because she was a woman.
Not that she denied any of those realities, because she didn't. Obviously she couldn't deny that she was a woman, but one of the things that I've always loved about Eleanor Roosevelt is that she was always entirely prepared to also acknowledge both that she wasn't pretty and she was an idealist – that these were just realities.
But she simply refused to be made to feel inferior -- to be disregarded or dismissed -- because of them.
There's tremendous power in that. In claiming and owning a reality that others might imagine we'd wish away -- because it means we're overlooked or not taken seriously or made to feel inferior or ashamed, or like we don't belong --
And simply declining to accept it as such. Simply declining to buy into their interpretation of our reality as less-than, in need of defense, or shameful.
They can try, of course. They might even be really good at it, or have a lot of authority -- but ultimately? For it to actually work?
We'd have to play along. And we don't have to play along.
Just ask the woman who appears at the home of Simon the Pharisee in today's passage from the gospel of Luke. Just ask Jesus, who celebrates every glorious minute she's IN that home of Simon the Pharisee.
Because no matter how hard Simon the Pharisee tries -- to make her feel uncomfortable, to make her feel ashamed, to make her feel like she's not good enough to do what she's doing, and not good enough to be there at all --
She is simply not having it. No one can make her feel inferior without her consent -- and she does not consent.
It kind of, in a fun sort of way, leaves Simon the Pharisee pretty much sputtering with frustration! Because this is not how such a situation is supposed to unfold!
This woman who's come into his house – Simon refers to her as "a sinner". Which in this context isn't so much an appraisal of whether she's done more or fewer wrong things than any of the rest of us, imperfect as we are –
As it is basically a euphemism for "prostitute". And he's not wrong.
This woman who's come into his house -- she knows everyone's seen her on the street corner. She knows it's no secret to anyone there what she has to do to survive, for whatever reason.
But so as far as Simon's concerned, that means she should also know that his house is not a place for people like her. His house is a place for good and holy and righteous people -- and that is not her.
And yet -- here she is. Doesn't she realize that as far as Simon's concerned, she ought to be ashamed of herself for even walking in the door?
Oh yes. She realizes. She's simply unwilling to buy into how Simon thinks she "ought to feel" because of her reality.
And doesn't she understand that as far as Simon's concerned, she's not fit to even be in the same ROOM as Jesus, never mind falling to her knees and embracing him?
Oh yes. She understands. Simon thinks she's "not fit" to be there and he wants her to behave accordingly. He wants her to feel inferior. She understands. But she does not consent.
It sends Simon sputtering with frustration. This is not the way such a situation is supposed to unfold.
But Jesus? Jesus loves every beautiful minute of it. From the moment she walks in the door, owning the fullness of who she is and what her life is like and knowing precisely how inferior, wrong, ashamed, everyone else in the room thinks she ought to be feeling because of it –
and yet she refuses to concede that there's not a place for her in Jesus' presence just as surely as there is for anyone else. Jesus loves every beautiful minute of it. And we should too.
Because it's exhausting to think we need to be perfect. I don't know that any of us imagines we need to be perfect with God -- I hope not, at any rate -- because it's quite exhausting enough to think that we need to be perfect with each other.
As though if we let slip whatever mask we wear of being wholly faithful, or wholly together, or wholly well, or wholly unafraid, we run the risk of someone else knowing our reality -- and deciding it means we can be dismissed, or overlooked, or not taken seriously, or regarded with contempt, or excluded entirely.
It's exhausting, thinking we have to be perfect with each other.
Because quite apart from the fact that no one can make us feel inferior without our consent -- and if there's one piece of good news in this passage it's that the so-called 'sinful woman' shows us, and vividly, that it is actually possible to hold our head up and just refuse to concede that consent --
The OTHER good news of is this passage is that it turns out, as we discover when Jesus delivers unto Simon a very stern and pointed lecture about how Simon can be a better behaved Pharisee in the future --
It turns out that everything about this woman's reality that Simon thinks makes her not fit for the company of good and holy and righteous people -- Jesus already totally knows about it. And it just doesn't matter.
Simon actually muses that Jesus must not know what kind of woman this is -- because if he did, he'd never let her come into the room and embrace him.
But Simon is wrong. Jesus does know this woman's reality -- knows what she does to survive, knows everything about her that's broken and hurting and angry and not perfect. Not holy. Not righteous. And it just doesn't matter.
She pretends nothing – she's a wreck, her reality is a wreck, and she owns it. But far from tut-tutting like Simon that her reality is messing up his place for good and holy and righteous people...
Jesus actually pointedly observes to Simon... that all the good and holy and righteous pretences that Simon's so fond of are frankly messing up Jesus' place for REAL people.
Who are maybe a wreck. Who can't muster up "perfect" and why should they have to? Why can't they just need help? Why can't they just need rest or compassion or closeness to God?
The real good news of this passage isn't just every beautiful minute of the 'sinful' woman's utterly steadfast refusal to consent to Simon's best efforts to make her feel inferior.
That's pretty awesome, it's true, if only because man, if she can do it, then we can too.
But the real good news of this passage is that the people who gather to be in God's presence -- to say a word of thanks and be strengthened in spirit and find comfort and courage to keep on keeping on --
The people that gather to be in God's presence don't need to pretend to be perfect. Not with God -- who totally already knows we're not anyway, so that'd just be a losing battle --
But also not with each other. Pretending like we're wholly faithful -- never doubting, never wavering. Or wholly together -- never crushed by depression, never at the end of our rope.
Pretending like we're wholly well -- never dispirited or in pain or struggling not to take a drink. Or wholly unafraid -- never desperate or lashing out or making bad choices.
What happens that day at the home of Simon the Pharisee is that the notion that Jesus' presence, that God's presence, is only a place for good and holy and righteous people -- it just gets smashed.
With God is a place for REAL people. Who do not need to pretend to be perfect, and frankly -- like the woman who embraces Jesus and pours out her love for him -- can be their best and most generous and kindest with one another when they just own the fact that they're NOT perfect. And they need help. And that's why they're here.
No one can make us feel inferior without our consent. It's a powerful statement by a woman who knew what it was to experience people trying to make her feel inferior. All the time.
But the woman who comes to Simon the Pharisee's house makes a powerful statement too. In this place, in the presence of God, that whole question should be moot. In this place, in the presence of God and with each other, we get to be real.
Thanks be to God. Amen.