This coming Sunday at our church, the message will deal with the woman who anointed Jesus with tears and expensive ointment while he was a guest in the home of a Pharisee, Simon. She was not welcome in Simon's home because she was a "sinner," whatever that means. It is a bit of a leap to assume that meant she was a prostitute although it's possible that was her work. She crashed the party.
She also gave Jesus appropriate hospitality. She welcomed and cared for Jesus out of love for him. Simon's hospitality to Jesus was extended in a social system of reciprocity. In other words, every courtesy he extended to Jesus would be intended to benefit him (Simon) in some way. That was the convention. He gave hospitality for his own sake. The woman, the unwelcome woman, gave hospitality for Jesus' sake.
Jesus proclaims her forgiven. She is a sinner no more upon his declaration. Then he sends her off in peace.
Our family has had a recent experience with being made to feel not welcome. We have welcomed two sons into our lives through adoption. We couldn't imagine life without them. Henry came from Ethiopia a year ago. He came with a facial condition which we knew nothing about. But it is contagious and it has covered his face with bumps.
One of the other parents at the nursery school he attends and loves, has made a stink about Henry, even refusing to send her children unless the director takes measures to correct the situation. It's understandable. She doesn't want her child's face to have 20 bumps on it the way Henry's does.
The fact is, Henry's condition is a virus that will run its course without any permanent damage. It causes no discomfort in the present. And, every doctor and pediatrician we've talked to said that the condition is no cause to disqualify him from nursery school. At public schools, he would not be sent home because of uncovered bumps. We have checked with the nurse at our older son's school.
Still, the director of Henry's nursery school, a woman we respect and love, has dictated that the only way Henry can participate is to have the bumps covered. Otherwise, he's not welcome. One day we tried it - imagine covering the face of a 2-year-old with band-aids. Even when we observed the stipulation, the complaining mom kept her children home. No matter what, her message was our son was not welcome.
It's been hurtful because no one talked to us about it. The nursery school tries to maintain a family atmosphere, but in this case, no one in the "family" had the love or concern to tell us our child wasn't welcomed. They went through back channels, talked behind our backs, and hid behind the director. They made her do all the dirty work.
In the grand scheme of things, this is all small. Henry is sad now, but he likely won't remember this any more than he will have any detailed memory of the events that led him to become an orphan. Kids are resilient and they bounce back. Henry is a happy, rambunctious boy, a true joy in our lives. We will get through this just fine. That said, we are sad. In the moment, we weep from sadness.
This morning, as I think of the issue of welcome and I contemplate the sermon I will write on Luke 7:36-50, our recent and ongoing experience with Henry is on my mind. I don't really know what it is like to be on the receiving end of the establishment's rejection. I am a white, middle class, professionally educated, American male. That puts me in the class of the most advantaged people on earth. Any minor inconvenience or injustice I suffer is completely insignificant in the sense that I have it made in life, and I have the resources to recover. Even in this nursery school flap, my wife and I could fight. We choose not to.
But, as I ponder our experience and the experience of the woman in Luke 7, I wonder. Can we, can I, love Jesus with as much appreciation as she did? I hope so. I would rather that Henry be able to go back to nursery school. But we aren't going to cover his face in bandages. So,he can't go. Knowing that, what can we learn from God? How can this help us grow closer to God?