6/13/04 , P2C
Something About Mary
here was something going around about a young single woman in our community. She was not from Linwood and she wore red lipstick; lots of it, and she painted her toes red too. The most damming evidence was that she had her ears pierced. And all of that obvious evil from a public school teacher paid with, “our tax dollars!”
In today's story we overhear something about Mary. “If this man were a prophet he would have known what kind of woman was touching him—that she was a sinner.” How did this rich Pharisee, Jesus' host, know that she was a sinner anyway? What personal encounter had he with her? Or, maybe it was her pierced ears and red lips and toes.
Jesus defended her. He spoke up and asked a parabolic question: A business question. One debtor owed a lot of money and the other owed just a little bit. The creditor forgave both debts. So, the question of the Pharisee was which man would have been most grateful? He answered up fast, “Why, the one who had been forgiven the most! And he was correct. However, he still did not get it. This scene was just too much for Simon. After all, the Pharisees had clear laws against a Jewish man being touched by a sinful woman.
Although the text does not exactly say that the silent woman at the end of chapter seven was Mary Magdalene, interpreters have typically agreed that it was implied. The lectionary selected verses includes the first three verses of the eighth chapter, so that we can see how Dr. Luke developed the intimation. The chapters and verses were not a part of the original story, having been added in 1551, and can sometimes break stories into two confusing parts, as they do in this case. Rumors are typically intimated anyway. However, even if the woman who anointed Jesus' feet was not Mary Magdalene, she had an awful lot to be grateful for. Chapter eight, verse three, clearly says that Mary Magdalene had been freed from “seven demons.”
The Christian Church has held dear this story about Mary, who had been demon possessed, but had been cured, and she had so very much to be grateful for. Her response was to cast off her old life and give all she had and ever hoped to be to following Jesus. As it turned out, this woman once so full of evil became a leader among the disciples. She was not only the first one to witness Jesus' Resurrection, but became the first bearer of the Good News that Jesus was alive after they had all seen him crucified and dead. She had been forgiven a lot and was acting out of her gratitude in giving her life to Jesus.
Does this mean that since some of us were nurtured by Christian parents and never in our lives rebelled too much, and just got swept into the arms of Christ without any problem; that we do not have much to be as grateful for? We can ask ourselves which of the players in this drama we personally identify with the most. Do you see yourself in the Pharisee, or the sinner?
Some of us are saying to ourselves that we are grateful, not so much for major sins that have been forgiven, but we are grateful for the sins that we were kept from committing because of the Christian families that loved us into grace.
Ruth Bell Graham, the daughter of Presbyterian medical missionaries to China , says that she can never remember not knowing that Christ was her Savior: Although she is the wife of the world's foremost practitioner of instantaneous conversion. She has often said that she is so grateful for the sins that she was prevented from committing. However, she goes on to say that even though she was not possessed by demons, that she was led to understand early on, and to accept, that Christ had died to save her from her sin nature and had power to keep her.
Dr. Bob Ozment, my predecessor at Atlanta First, had taught a course at Emory entitled “Christian Nurture.” Christian Nurture with children is the process of teaching them to love of Christ early on and hopefully they will never rebel. I took Dr. Ozment's course and Marilyn and I have tried our best, with the help of God, to rear our daughters by these principles, and are grateful that it worked.
John Wesley was nurtured by a very organized mother, Susanna; however later in life he felt a deep sense of sin, although he led an outwardly pious life. We all know of his “Heart Warming” experience at Aldersgate Street , London . Each year we Methodists are supposed to set aside May 24 th as a reminder of our founder's conversion.
It is true that folks who were nurtured into the Kingdom need to be reminded occasionally that they are sinners too, transformed however gently, by the Grace of God in Christ. Maybe your rebellion was not as obvious and you think that you do not have much to be thankful for; but you still must feel deep down that except for the power at work within our lives, and through your parents, teachers, relatives, and pastors, you would have not been able to avoid the many times that you were tempted.
I suppose the reason that Christians have held dear to story about Mary, the bold sinner turned into St. Mary of Magdala, for whom thousands of churches are named, is that it is a role model that anyone, no matter how grave or small their outward sins, do have an inward need for the inward assurance of the Holy Spirit. And we are grateful!
Our story ends with a note about the women who went with the Apostles following Jesus: “Women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities.” They were grateful and so are we. We can be grateful that we are not like some folks who seem to have nothing to be grateful for.
And about Mary Atkins, my third grade teacher with the red lips and toes, and pierced ears. Little did the rumor mongers know that she was a Methodist preacher's daughter who taught Sunday School in her daddy's church and still lived in the parsonage. She had picked up her new makeup from her days at Pfeiffer Methodist College . She was my favorite teacher in elementary school; It may have been the red lips.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor