This Saturday we’re hosting a huge banquet for Dublin (6pm, Filmbase, Temple Bar) as part of our True Love week.
Then in our Sunday Service we’ll be reflecting on the theme of true love, looking at the famous story of Jesus being invited to a banquet hosted by Simon the Pharisee recorded for us in Luke 7:36-50. Everything goes a bit wrong (from Simon’s perspective) as a notorious sinner (probably a prostitute) gatecrashes this nice and proper religious banquet and performs one of the most outrageous acts of true love towards Jesus… who reciprocates the love.
Tim Chester in his brilliant book A Meal With Jesus captures the controversy brilliant in a modern parable.
Imagine you’re at a dinner party. The host is a respected church leader and local councilman who lives in a big house on the posh side of town. Tonight the dinner party is in the honour of a visiting speaker. You’re glad to have been invited, because there’s a been a lot of talk about this man. He’s been causing something of a stir with his radical views. Some people won’t have anything to do with him, but you’ve got an open mind. It’s good to have an opportunity to find out what’s he’s really like.
You hear the doorbell ring but think nothing of it, until a woman pushes her way into the room. You see the despairing face of the host’s wife. This new arrival is wearing a tight-fitting, low-cut blouse; a skirt that’s way too short; and stiletto shoes. She’s painted up to the nines and totters slightly as she walks – she’s probably had one drink too many. She looks like the sort of woman who stands on street corners.
She goes straight to the visiting speaker and throws her arms around him, clasping his head to her bosom. “I’ll be yours”, you hear her mumble. She begins to massage his shoulders. It’s then that you notice she’s crying, her mascara streaking down her cheeks. Everyone in the room seems to freeze. What a thing for a respectable person to have to endure. You feel for him. How embarrassing.
But instead of pushing her away, he reaches up and puts his arms around her. He says something to her that sounds like: “And you’re mine”. But he can’t have said that. It’s obvious what kind of woman she is. He can surely see that for himself. He ought to show some discernment. She might think it’s a come-on. Maybe it is. Maybe he’s one of her “customers”. This visiting speaker clearly has big problems.
This story tells us five things about true love.
- It’s unconditional – to the world, and especially to Simon, this woman should be shunned for the sinful life she has led. But true love doesn’t embrace people who have a perfect record and who live moral lives. True love is unconditional; it embraces any who would come to receive Jesus’ love.
- It sees the heart – to the world, and especially to Simon, this woman looked dodgy and she had a dodgy history. But God repeatedly tells us not to look at external appearances, but to the heart. True love does that and this women has a heart that is tender and soft towards Jesus.
- It protects – Jesus could (and in Simon’s eyes should!) have shunned her. But he doesn’t. He embraces her and receives her love. And so he gets the flax and anger of the rest of the guests. His embrace of her is a way of protecting her and averting the heat from her to himself. True love always protects, says Paul in that famous 1 Corinthians 13 passage.
- It’s substitutional – in Jesus protecting her he shows that true love always involves a substitution. He puts himself between the glare and hostility of the religious leaders and the woman. He takes her place.
- It’s transforming – this woman demonstrates a freedom, confidence and joy from knowing Jesus’ love that defies any method of gaining self-esteem through worldly means. Her life has been transformed and turned upside-down by the forgiveness, embrace, protection and exaltation she has received from Jesus. True love accepts us where we are but always bring us on to greater freedom and confidence.
In many ways the woman in this story reminds me of our very own Molly Malone and the legendary tale of how she roamed the streets of Dublin as a hawker by day (traveling around selling her merchandise) and a prostitute by night (luring men in).
Let’s pray many who are roaming the streets of Dublin find not just our banquet on Sunday but God’s love, shown ultimately in Christ and find a freedom, joy, confidence and strength that cannot be explained.