On Sunday, October 14 I will be preaching at Evensong at Saint Paul's Cathedral. On the wall of my very messy office there is a picture of Archbishop Desmond Tutu preaching in the very same pulpit in which I will be standing.
The second lesson at Evensong will be the story of the"woman of the city" who bathed and anointed Jesus' feet while he was dining in the home of Simon, a Pharisee. (Luke 7:36-50) Simon, as one would expect, was scandalized that Jesus would permit a woman, and especially a woman whom Simon considered to be a terrible sinner, to touch him. Jesus, however, saw the woman's actions as signs that she had been forgiven. Jesus also saw that Simon had no sense that he had been forgiven, perhaps because he had no awareness of his need to be forgiven.
The woman had seen the truth about herself. She knew that she had sinned, that her life was not as God wanted it to be, not as she herself wanted it to be. She had seen in the person and teaching of Jesus an even more important truth, that she was beloved, that forgiveness was there for her, that a life that was radically different from the life that she had led was possible for her.
Simon saw no such truth about himself. He could not see, or would not see, his own sin, how his life was not as God wanted it to be, his own need for forgiveness.
Reconciliation, as our sisters and brothers in South Africa have learned, requires facing the truth. When we hide from the truth, when we refuse to face the truth, reconciliation is impossible. Something like that is happening in the Turkish reaction to the House of Representative's resolution that labels the mass killing of Armenians as genocide. But something like that is also happening, as was pointed out on of all shows "The Daily Show," in the lack of any similar resolution about our government's attempts to wipe out so many members of the First Nations that stood in the way of the westward expansion that was seen as the fulfillment of our"manifest destiny."
There is a something else about this story that intrigues and challenges me. Jesus said to Simon, "Do you see this woman?" It seems clear that Jesus knew that Simon had seen her and that Simon had been scandalized by her actions and Jesus' acceptance of them. So what did Jesus mean by that question? Perhaps Jesus was challenging Simon to see more than he had already seen, to see the woman not only as a sinner, which she undoubtedly was, but to see her as she had begun to see herself, as a beloved child of God, and as a beloved sister to Simon.
As important as facing the truth was in the process of reconciliation in South Africa, of at least equal importance was learning to see others not as hated enemies, not as members of despised racial groups, but as brothers and sisters, created in the image of God, sinners in need of forgiveness, sinners whom those whom they had injured could forgive.
Are we open - am I open - to facing the hard truths about how we have failed to live as God wants us to live? And are we ready to see others as beloved sisters and brothers, beloved children of God?