There is a story I heard, about a woman who was waiting for her flight. Since she had some time before boarding, she had bought a bag of cookies to munch on. The gate began to fill up as people arrived for the same flight, and a man sat down next to her.
As she got hungry, she started to eat the bag of cookies, placed between her and the man. And as she began eating, she looked over and saw that every time she took a cookie from the bag, the man would take a cookie from the bag and eat it as well. How rude! She thought. How dare he take cookies from me without asking me or even knowing me!
This continued—every cookie she took and ate, the man did the same. The woman got angrier and angrier and more indignant with each cookie. Finally, there was one cookie left. The man laughed, pulled the cookie out of the bag, broke it in half, and gave the woman one of the halves.
As you can imagine, the woman was about to burst with anger. Luckily, it was that moment they began calling for passengers to board. She gathered her things in a fit of rage, rushed to the attendant taking the tickets, and ran onto the plane in an effort to get away from such an awful man.
She secured her suitcase in the overhead compartment and settled into her seat with her purse, and she was still enraged, thinking about the gall of the man who ate her cookies right under her nose. As she reached into her purse to grab a stick of gum for the flight, her hand brushed against something. She pulled that something out of her purse.
It was her bag of cookies. She had actually been eating HIS cookies the whole time!
This story never ceases to amuse me, because she was so angry at this guy for supposedly doing exactly what SHE was doing!!
Our Old Testament reading from 2nd Samuel has a similar situation. King David has a huge problem. While Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was away on military duty, David decided to have Bathsheba for himself and she became pregnant. In order to cover up his mistake, David had her husband Uriah killed (and made to look like it happened in battle). Then, he made Bathsheba his wife. The prophet Nathan then tells David a story. A poor man has one lamb that he raises, that grew up with him and his children. It’s like a daughter to him. A rich man, although he has many lambs, takes the poor man’s one beloved lamb and kills it and serves it to a visitor.
David, when hearing this story, gets incredibly angry. He says (probably yells) that the rich man should die for what he’s done.
And imagine David’s horror when Nathan tells him—“You are the man!” David was so angry at the rich man in the story, that he didn’t realize he had done the exact same thing with Uriah and Bathsheba. He’s like the woman with the bag of cookies waiting for her plane.
Just in case you thought things were different later in Jesus’ time, let’s fast forward to the dinner party described in our reading from Luke. A Pharisee, a strict Jewish religious leader, invites Jesus over to dinner. A woman shows up, and weeps. She cleans Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair, and anoints his feet with oil.
Meanwhile, the Pharisee is saying to himself, “If this man [Jesus] were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” So what’s being implied in this Pharisee’s thoughts is that this woman wasn’t good enough to touch Jesus. We don’t know what this woman has done, we never find out. But we know that she’s clearly made a lot of mistakes in her life, and this Pharisee believes she should NOT be touching Jesus.
Meanwhile, it’s safe to say that this Pharisee is not without sin himself. He may even have made the same mistakes as the woman, who knows? But, like David, he is judging someone else without being able to see that he himself is also in the wrong.
But Jesus tells him a story, of a creditor who forgives two men their debts. One man owes much more money than the other. Who loved the creditor more? The Pharisee replies, the man who owed the most money. And Jesus tells him “You have judged rightly.” And then Jesus tells him that, although he did not welcome Jesus by washing his feet or greeting him with a kiss or anointing him, this woman has done all that.
You see, David from our Old Testament lesson and the Pharisee from our Gospel lesson are trapped in a judgement zone. They are judging others based on what they believe, and really, underlying all that is the assumption that THEY are better than the ones they are judging—when in reality, we are all sinners who make mistakes.
We know what this is. We all do it. How many of us have looked at someone and thought “They’re wearing THAT?” How many of us have looked at someone and thought “I can’t BELIEVE they did that! Who do they think they are?? I would NEVER do that!” You know what I’m talking about! It happens so naturally sometimes, that it’s hard to even notice we’re doing it!
And then when we do make mistakes, we are usually really hard on ourselves and judge ourselves just as harshly. We think we deserve punishment—and wonder if God is punishing us for the things we did. We stick ourselves in this judgement zone and can’t get ourselves out.
So how do David and the Pharisee, and even us—how do we get free of being stuck in this judgement zone, of judging people and ourselves based on the mistakes we make?
Well let’s look at David—He clearly recognizes that what he did was wrong. He says, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan says “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.” So God has gotten rid of David’s sin and put away his mistakes.
The troubling part is, if you continue reading the story in 2 Samuel, that there are still consequences for David’s mistakes. We could spend a whole other sermon talking about that, and what’s going on there, because there are no easy answers—but what we do know is that God was forgiving to David and “put away his sin.”
And despite the mistakes David made, he became one of the greatest kings of Israel. And David begins to realize that it’s not about judging others—it’s about God’s forgiveness for himself and for others.
Fast forward to Jesus and the Pharisee and the woman. Jesus tells the woman that her sins are forgiven. Everyone at the table is freaked out by this-- they say among themselves “Who is this who even forgives sins?” The Jewish leaders can’t handle it. As I like to say, “they can’t even”.
You see, Jesus’ forgiveness is shocking. It’s alarming. It goes against everything we know. It’s like Jesus’ story with the creditor and the debtors—both debtors get their debts forgiven, even though one owes much more than the other. In fact, the guy who owed more loves more, because more was forgiven.
That means that everyone is forgiven by Jesus, no matter how big their mistakes are. That means that those people who act inappropriately, dress inappropriately, murderers, child molesters, prostitutes—those people are forgiven by God, just as we are. And when they find out they are forgiven, they love Jesus a ton because they had a ton to forgive. Told you it was shocking.
But the cool part about all this is that Jesus frees us from being stuck in the judgment zone. Because Jesus forgives everyone, we know that no matter how big our or someone else’s mistakes are, there is forgiveness for us. For all of us.
There is an important disclaimer to all this. Paul explains in his letters to the Romans in chapter six: “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” So just because we are forgiven doesn’t mean we should actively try to sin and do the things that separate us from God and others more!
But it DOES mean that, because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are able to die to the sins and mistakes we do make and rise to new life with Jesus. He died so that we don’t have to be stuck in that judgement zone anymore. All of the mistakes and sins you’ve done, are doing, and will do, died on that cross with Jesus. Jesus died so that everyone—YOU—could be free of judgment and live a new life with him. Jesus gets us out of the judgement zone and living a new and exciting life with him.
So whenever you see the cross—whether it be in church, around someone’s neck, on a billboard—let it remind you of Jesus’ forgiveness. Let it remind you that your sins were nailed to that cross with Jesus and died with him. Let it remind you that no matter how much you mess up, your debt is forgiven by the one who died for you, Jesus Christ. You are now in a judgement-free zone. Amen?