Soren Kierkegaard said “Once you label me, you negate me”. In other words, once you put a label on me, you have reduced me to your label. The story we are looking at today from Luke chapter 7 involving Jesus, a Pharisee, and a prostitute has much to do with labels. Labels that we put on other people in order to negate them and reduce them to a certain category. We can then say this person is that, we treat them as if they are mere commodities, we put them into the right file in our category box. We negate their full humanity, now their opinions, and even their very being, does not matter.
This has much to do with the labels we put on other people, but also labels we place upon ourselves. Sometimes we put labels in ourselves, and then we find ourselves having to up, or down, to that label. When we label ourselves, we restrict our capacity to think and act freely and honestly. Worse, we often limit our capacity to love others.
So we are looking at this story today, a beautiful story filled with as much of the Gospel as any of the New Testament. So let’s begin.
One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” In Luke’s gospel, Jesus moves from meal to meal. He moves from meal to meal announcing and enacting the kingdom of God. This is the first of three times in Luke’s gospel when Jesus dines with a Pharisee. We know that Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, and that is quite provocative and controversial. But Jesus does not reverse discriminate against the Pharisees, they are not excluded from Jesus’s table. I can not make this next statement strongly enough. Jesus will share his table with whomever is willing to share it with him. So not only is he the friend of sinners, eating with tax collectors and other shady characters, but he’s more than willing to sit down with the righteous, if they will only sit with him.
We need to remember who the Pharisees were. They were a Jewish group seeking to “take back israel for God”. They weren’t priests, though there were priests among them. Being a Pharisee was not a vocation in itself. Pharisee (which means “separate”)was a label, a self imposed label, much like we today might label ourselves conservative or liberal. This means we belong to a certain “pressure group” and we are going to push to the left or we’re going to push to the right. Being a Pharisee should be understood as something like that.
The problem with adopting a pressure group label is you then must live up, or down, to the expectations of the group. Self adopting a pressure group label means you are sort of pledging allegiance to the group think hostility. Once you take that label and place it upon yourself and say I belong to this pressure group, whatever group that is, the larger group says we will then tell you who you can love and who you must disdain. You are then constricted by your own label.
From the Pharisees perspective, the problem with Israel was that it was not conservative, or Torah observant enough. They adopted a group think hostility toward sinners, people who in their estimation were creating the problem of Israel not being blessed by God. They would think to themselves “these sinners are preventing the blessing of god from coming upon our nation, therefore we need to put pressure on those groups of people to conform to our standards.”
That is the background to this particular story, I’m going to wrap up here today and come back to this. I’m going to break this down into smaller messages, I can’t fit this into a three minute writing, so until next time, think about those labels we use today, both for ourselves and others. Think about our labels, Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, right wing, left wing, NRA member or gun grabber, fascist or socialist, addict, drunk, thief, homophobe, extremist, transgender, LGBT…all these labels we throw out there. What is it we are trying to accomplish with these labels? How do we diminish others, and ourselves, by living through these labels?