Humans have the propensity to mess things up. Let me say that another way. Humans have a readiness to mess things up.
Consider the times where we are rocking a perfectly good day. The sun is out after a much-needed rain. We are clicking off our to-do list with ease. Conversation is going well and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere you run the day into the ditch.
Right. You guessed it. That is me.
I’d like to say that I quickly and keenly turn it around. Many times I make matters worse.
Have you had the same experience?
Ready to Mess Things Up
If so, then you may quickly agree, Humans have the propensity to mess things up.
I have borrowed and edited the phrase from Francis Spufford. In, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense. Spufford charts a course toward an emotional intelligence that may well be a better place to appeal to the value of Christianity.
One blurb on the back of the book sums it up this way, “The most exhilarating read of the year . . . His case for faith is rude, intelligent, and convincing.”
For most of us, it does not seem natural to suggest the case for faith is rude. What it looks like the reader grasps is that sometimes it takes a rude honesty to snap us to attention. You know the sort of event, or way of saying things, that prompt you to evaluate yourself?
It is this assessment of humans that leads Spufford to put what the Apostle Paul writes, “For there is none righteous, no not one,” into a more modern expression, “Human propensity to mess things up.”
Reading the meal stories of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke do two things. First, they illustrate that sometimes making a point, Jesus points to faith in what some would consider a rude manner. Here he tells his host that he has been inhospitable. You did not give me water for my feet, no welcome kiss, and no oil for my head.
Second, it is clear that Simon had a perfect opportunity to assess whether Jesus could be the Messiah and quickly he made a judgment that illustrates the human propensity to mess things up.
Before we assail Simon too vigorously, we may want to identify with him. The parallel line Jesus was running with the Pharisees is the one that attracted those like Simon to Jesus. Jesus’ call to Israel to be faithful to her God played well for a group who believes the conditions of their lives are a direct result of unfaithfulness. One way to remedy their unfortunate circumstances would be to point people to faithful obedience.
We often live with the same sense. For some of us, when things seem to be out of order, we attempt to pinpoint where it is we ran into the ditch. We then make promises to ourselves and others that we will be more faithful. And, of course, we make this pledge to God when we assess our guilt and shame as emotions that lead us to honestly evaluate ourselves rather than rationalize our way out from underneath it all.
That is what Spufford points to in his little book. We may look to escape our guilt and shame, or we learn from what it is that caused our guilt and shame. Avoiding our guilt and shame leaves us unchanged. Learning from what causes our guilt and shame leads us to transformation.
When we are honest, we may admit that often our guilt and shame results from our human propensity to mess things up.
What we need is someone who loves us anyway. Our future is made different when we encounter a love that draws out of us an unexplained devotion.
We Fit the Description, If Not the Degree
Last Sunday after we had put away the last chair racks, Alex, Greg and I got to talking. We were rehashing the sermon a bit. One of the things we wrestled was the reality that we tend to have very narrow circles. That if we are going to see meals as an opportunity to express the love and friendship of God, then we need to expand the circles of our life.
During that conversation, Greg mentioned a fellow’s story that was of the sort that you listen gobsmacked. You know, the feeling you get when the story contains an overwhelming sense of “Wow” that you hope it is not apparent that your mouth is gaping open in wonder and amazement?
Greg rightly noted that the fellow’s story is one that should be told. It would make a great book. It would make a great movie. The experience of God’s love and grace amidst a clear picture of the human propensity to mess things up has left the fellow changed. It was at the moment of recalling Greg telling that story that I had a flashback.
It was an uncomfortable moment.
I had more in common with Simon.
The reason I had more in common with Simon may be the same reason many of us do. We look at life, our lives, in degrees. That was Simon’s problem. He assessed his faithfulness to God as what differentiated himself from all other humans. He did not see himself as part of the whole. He did not see himself having as much propensity to mess things up so he could judge this woman who showed up in a way that he could then indict Jesus as not possibly one sent from God.
Some of us who have grown up in the church, we started on the cradle roll, find it hard to admit that any propensity to mess things up means we all have that readiness to mess things up. We assess in degrees and not condition.
And this becomes a more significant obstacle to devotion. And, it is what keeps our tables closed rather than open.
Jesus’ response to the woman opens up Simon’s table where Simon had kept it closed.
Something Triggered Her
If you look carefully, we discover the corrective for the human propensity to mess things up. We know not what preceded the woman’s actions that day. Instead, it seems that she, as many did in that day, showed up at a feast. She was not invited per se. But, she was not sent away either.
Whether it was Jesus’ reputation, a prior point of contact or some other event we do not know. What we do know is that something about Jesus triggered the woman to take up providing the water to wash Jesus’ feet, she kissed those feet, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume.
It would appear here we could call on the words of John, “Love consists in this: not that we loved God, that he loved us and sent his Son.”
The devotion of the woman to Jesus is not what earned her recognition. Her devotion demonstrated her awareness of Jesus’ love. What she had heard and seen in Jesus drew from her a response that recognized he came because humans propensity to mess things up, and that included her.
One of my young friends insists that our road to ongoing transformation is to follow Luther’s pattern – remember your justification. That is, remember what God has done for you.
Making the point in the parable is not to say that both debtors are not grateful. But, the one forgiven more it would seem, Simon responded, would love more.
Now we could take that as a principle and expect that if our mess is not as severe as another then naturally we could reason we would love less just as Simon had done. But, if we are part of human who have a propensity to mess things up, then it would seem the issue is not a matter of degree but of reality. That is, we mess up no matter the degree. That we would be loved and forgiven is what prompts our devotion.
When Jesus announces that the woman’s faith as saved her, he is pointing up that she is no longer captive to humans propensity to mess things up. Note he is not saying she will not mess up. He is announcing that the faith birthed by the love and forgiveness of God rescues her from the indebtedness she has for her sin.
That is Good News!
It may be gross that she touched Jesus’ feet while he was at his feet. But, it is love and grace that touched her and made her alive to the love God has for her.
Text: Luke 7:36-50
*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions/differences to the preached version.