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Jun 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 7, 2015 – Luke 7:36-50

Meditation On Human Behavior

Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” Luke 7:36-49

Intro: Helmut Thielicke, when preaching a sermon on this passage, began:

“I never cease to be amazed by the colorful characters whom we meet in the Bible. They are not all alike and we are not dealing with painted saints. We do not encounter among them the same kind of reverent monotony we find in Eastern icons. They are thrown together in sharply contrasting mixes in this story of the Pharisee and the sinful woman. . . . Even between Jesus and the two who shared with him the hill of Golgotha there are worlds of difference.”

It is because Thielicke’s observation fits our theme perfectly that I chose this passage
– my talk is titled, “Meditation On Human Behavior”
• nothing is more surprising, disturbing, or touching
◦ but discussing this theme is tricky, because we’ve all become amateur psychologists
• meditation suggests a different approach than examination, analysis, diagnosis and therapy
◦ so we have to set our knowledge of psychology to one side
– we meditate when we want to get beneath the surface of a thing
• in this case, when we look behind a person’s actions, not to see why, but to see the person

This story opens windows on the inner person
– and the importance of not being deceived by superficial measurements
• in the home of the Pharisee, nothing was what it appeared to be

Most of us have meditated on human behavior–a lot
– but, as a rule, our meditation has not lead us to discovery of a person
• our tendency is to attribute (or “project”) motives and explanations for the actions of others
• so in a way we see only pale versions of ourselves in the actions of others
– realistically, we do not have enough time to observe others without judgment
• judgments that come so quickly and easily
◦ our brains developed this ability for our protection
◦ in an instant we must determine whether the stranger approaching in the dark is a threat
• but this faculty must also be set aside to see accurately the person underneath the behavior

The way human behavior unfolds in scripture

The Bible tends to shift its interest when observing (or legislating) human behavior
– it may turn its magnifying glass on the heart, imagination, spirit, body, or will
• it is always interested in free will and the choices people make
– the Bible also observes the idiosyncrasies of individuals
• reading the New Testament letters we easily distinguish Paul from James and both from John

One scholar whose work has given me a better understanding of biblical stories is Robert Alter
– he explains that the biblical form of character development is not like our western novels
• generally, scripture does not have much said about the inner lives of our heroes
◦ or give details of their physical appearance, outside of what is necessary when building the plot
◦ and, like the woman in this story, many characters are anonymous (nameless)
• so when looking at human behavior:

“the Bible’s artful selectivity produces both sharply defined surfaces and a sense of ambiguous depths in character . . . .” (Alter)

– reading stories, expectations naturally form around certain character types
(for example, heroes and villains)
• but that is not always how it goes in scripture
◦ a righteous leader can lose his temper unrighteously
◦ a king “after God’s own heart” can murder a man to cover up an act of adultery
• the good person sometimes does bad things
◦ and the bad person sometimes does a good thing

“There is, in other words, an abiding mystery in character as the biblical writers conceive it, which they embody in their typical methods of presentation.” (Alter)

◦ that is to say, the men and women in scripture are like us — “a riddle wrapped in an enigma”

The gospels celebrate strange heroes
– the tax man, Zaccheus; a Samaritan woman; a run-away son; a dying thief
• their heroism is their willingness to be forgiven and come home to God
– in his parables, Jesus highlights certain oddities of human behavior
• “Two men went up to the temple to pray” – the devout man was ignored, the sinner was heard
• a father told his two sons to go work in his vineyard
◦ the one who said “No” did go and work in the vineyard; the one who said “Yes,” did not

Sometimes we catch Jesus people-watching
– observing and reflecting on human behavior
• the crowds who were oppressed and thrown down, looked to him like sheep without a shepherd (Mt. 9:36)
• at a luncheon he noticed how the invited guests picked out places of honor (Lk. 14:7)
• he sat one time in the temple “opposite the treasury, and observing” the donations people made. But it was a “poor widow” that caught his eye–and meditation (Mk. 12:41-42)

Today’s story shows us how easy it is to misjudge a person

And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it Teacher.”
“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?”
Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”
And He said, “You have judged correctly.” Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this I say to you, her sins which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 
Luke 7:40-50

I notice that the story does not begin with real-life people, but stock characters
– two people enter the story with “labels” rather than names: a Pharisees and a sinner
• later we will learn the Pharisee’s name, but never the woman’s
• even Jesus is labeled
◦ he did not pass the test of “prophet” yet was still addressed as “Teacher”
– when we assign a label to someone, we assume that person’s actions are predictable
• but this story breaks that rule — by the way, so does real life

The Lord’s first question to Simon was, “Do you see this woman?”
– I’m guessing that Simon did believe he saw her, and that he saw her through God’s eyes
• but the truth is, he may have looked at her but he never saw her
• his view of her was formed by the ideas and prejudice of his own mind, not real observation
– the Pharisee had already judged the sinner (that’s what Pharisees do)
• therefore, he was blind to the meaning of her actions
◦ for example: remorse, repentance and love
◦ to him, her whole drama amounted to a single fact, “She’s touching him!”
• and now that he has judged her, he feels prepared to judge Jesus
◦ “He is allowing her to touch him!”
– in John’s gospel, after being repeatedly misunderstood, Jesus told the crowd

Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment (Jn. 7:24)

• that is precisely what is missing from this story

God does not reduce people to labels – or to their past
• those ways of viewing people close them off to other possibilities
• but a person can always make a different choice and change their destiny

This is where we begin our meditation on human behavior
– to observe the person without defining labels
• certain facts that can be said about me do not define me
• a label make be accurate regarding one feature, but I am more than any label can encompass
– to see a person is more than to observe a noun
• we need to observe the verbs and adjectives too
◦ a person in action – a lost child on his way home, a woman who needs burden of sin and guilt removed
• we need to see the desperate woman, the self-righteous man, the compassionate Rabbi, etc.

A few suggestions for removing labels

When meditating on human behavior, bring more questions than answers
– you may sense something in a person’s nonverbal communication
• that is, posture, gestures, facial expression and so on
◦ if so, attempt to observe rather than draw conclusions
• curiosity is one of the most valuable tools for meditating on human behavior
– ask, “Could this person’s worldview be different from mine?”
• how would that affect my expectations? my explanations?

We need to refine our questions
– we tend to ask questions like, “Why would he do this to me?” or, “How could anyone do such a thing?”
• these are not really questions, but veiled statements
◦ we are saying, “What was done was terribly wrong”
• when we feel this way, it would do us good to first spend some time with our own feelings
◦ shock, hurt, outrage, disillusionment
◦ become aware of what is roiling within and face it
– then perhaps we can turn our statements into real questions
• the point is to find a deeper place from within to ask why someone would behave as he does
• this helps us see the potential depths of human behavior — for both good and bad

We might also refine our idea of what constitutes “normal”
– normal behavior is difficult to define, in part because it shifts with circumstances
• Scott Peck argued that depression is a “normal” response to heartbreaking events
– still, remember that our goal is not to “study” human behavior, but to observe it
• and then to meditate on its meaning–socially, relationally, personally, temporally, eternally, etc.
• and as far as possible, to see the behavior of others through God’s eyes
◦ at the same time knowing we will never get it perfectly right

Conc: Why meditate on human behavior?

First, because the Bible devotes a lot of space to doing this very thing
– the sort of questions God puts to people in scripture
• Where are you? Why are you here? What are you doing here?

Second, because of the insight we will gain if our meditation goes deep enough
• the kind of insight that enables us to love and shows us how

Third, while meditating on human behavior we may discover something about God’s nature
– his concern for individual persons
• and especially his concern for how we treat them

We might learn to let people surprise us — in the best possible ways

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