Have you ever been in the middle of doing something and been interrupted? It seems to happen to me a lot! Usually when I am cooking or reading or watching TV, trying to chill-out. I just seem to get started, and then... The phone rings or the doorbell goes. And I find that I am interrupted.
God has a way of interrupting things when you least expect it. From the story in the First reading we read that Elisha soon “followed Elijah and became his servant.” To follow and to serve. In the so-called wisdom of our modern world, to follow someone or something and to serve someone - are strange, almost old-fashioned concepts. For to surrender yourself to something else goes against the wisdom our contemporary world tries to sell us. Our modern world exalts what it calls freedom. You don’t need to be a slave to anyone, our world says. You are an individual, we are told. Doing your own thing could be the mantra of our age.
In the Bible, these words – follow and serve – have an almost technical sense to them. They do not imply a mindless adherence or mere servitude. To follow and serve in the Bible does not mean slavery. On the contrary, they denote a personal allegiance that involves a person in communion with life. Now this is certainly the case among human beings, but even more so when we talk of following and serving God. We can find freedom and grace when we decide to follow.
On this Sunday, we find Jesus in Luke’s Gospel asking his disciples the question: “who do the crowds say I am?” And the disciples give Jesus all sorts if answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets come back to life. Ok. That’s who the crowds say Jesus is. Jesus wants more: “But you… who do you say I am?”
Peter answers, and his response is familiar to us: The Christ of God. Jesus is the one anointed by God, sent to bring the Good News of Salvation. And herein lies the great paradox. For the Good News of Salvation lies in an anointed one who “is destined to suffer grievously…to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.” The Good News of Salvation is that the Messiah must die and then rise again. And that those who wish to follow him must do the same; they must take up their cross every day and follow him.
Today’s Gospel tells the story of a woman. A sinner. No doubt about it. She came to dinner uninvited and put on an unseemly, hysterical show of tears, feet kissing, and ostentatious hair towelling. Except for the dramatics, she might have been any one of us. Her actions invite judgement. Simon, the host, is quick to make his assessment of her. He is secure in his knowledge of the law. She is unclean and, he reasons, if Jesus is too naive to recognise this, then he is no prophet, and is perhaps a fake. Jesus forms a contrary judgement: ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Love has changed her. She intuits that she is understood and forgiven. She is no hysteric; just a woman giving extravagant expression to her love, gratitude and sense of relief. This story gives us vital clues about what Jesus thinks of sinners. His thinking confounds us. We tend to think that he would rebuke and condemn sinners. But that would rub against his nature and his mission. He has come into the world to save people from their sins.