Tina Turner Was Right–Thrice
Tina Turner had a song in the early 90s which addressed several of the points in our text. Specifically, she shows us how men and women hear this text differently. And she was right – three times.
Men hear this text and say with Tina, "What's love got to do with it?" Is this text telling me I have to be syrupy and emotional to be forgiven? Is this text saying unless my thanks for being forgiven is so intense that it presses tears out of my heart I'm not really forgiven? If so most men are in trouble. Most wives can tell you how many times they've seen their husband cry. Most men go out of their way not to let things get to them emotionally. What does expressing my love for Christ have to do with being forgiven?
Can any of you men imagine doing what this woman did in our text? First you have to "see" the situation. Jesus is at a Pharisee’s house for a meal. It was customary for uninvited people to sit against the walls and watch the banquet. The quests are on something like chaise lounges. They recline on their sides propped up on their left elbows; their feet aren't under the table but stretched out behind them. This woman comes up and stands where Jesus’ feet are. She intends to put perfume on His feet as a thank offering. But she starts crying instead. The tears of gratitude well up involuntarily. Hard to imagine isn't it men? But what follows is even harder. As she cries, she sees her tears splash on Jesus' dusty, unwashed bare feet. She's embarrassed that she's gotten Him wet, and so she lets down her hair to dry His feet. And then without thinking she starts to kiss those feet repeatedly, fervently.
"Tell me please," say men, "that this is not the sort of behavior expected from me if I'm really forgiven." And you don't yet know how startling it was. For a woman to loosen her hair in public was considered indecent. It was like a woman today removing her blouse. And for any woman of any era to dry feet with her hair would be like someone using your special knife to open a can or your waxing cloth to wipe up grease. And we don't even want to get in to the kissing part, do we?
What does love have to do with my being forgiven? Does it really matter that I'm not moved to tears or public humility by my Savior? Does it matter that I'm not ready to spend a fortune on my Savior? The "alabaster jar" the woman had was a small vial made out of alabaster which looks like white marble. It was cylindrical and at the top looked like a rosebud. Women wore these on a chain around their neck. The vials were opened by breaking the rosebud. Once broken they couldn't be resealed. The pricey perfume quickly evaporated. The perfume used on Jesus by Mary in John 12 cost a year's salary! And men think what the disciples did then: Isn't this a bit much? Couldn't she have shown her love by using her money for more practical things? Sandals, a new robe, a belt? We men just don't understand what love has to do with something that evaporates into thin hair. Women do. That's why we buy them cut flowers that die, and they buy us tools that won’t break.
But don't think because you women can relate to this woman and know what love has to do with forgiveness that you need no help with this text. Tina second line applies to you. “What’s love but a second-hand emotion?" Tina asks. That's true. Love always comes from something else. Only with God does love originate with Him. God is love. We’re not. We’re loving; that means something else generates that feeling inside of us. So the emotion itself is not near as important as where it comes from. In other words, a feeling of love doesn't automatically make that feeling right. You have to ask where does that secondhand emotion come from? Where does love like we sang of that dissolves the heart in thankfulness and melts the eyes to tears come from?
It starts from something that seems so unloving. It starts from having your sins exposed. Do you think this woman "loved it" when sometime earlier Jesus through the preaching of the Law exposed her sins? Do you think the first time her greediness, her gossip, her immorality were shown to lead straight to hell she went home happy and gushy? Don't you think she did what you’ve done before? Don't you think she said, "That Jesus is not a very loving person! He makes me feel bad, guilty, sinful. He could talk a lot nicer you know. It wouldn't hurt Him to be a bit gentler." Yes, the kind of love that bubbled tears from her eyes, kisses from her lips, humility from her heart, and perfume from her pocketbook started with the mean, unloving preaching of the Law. But the Law is Jesus' alien work. It’s not what He came to do, but it’s necessary for Him to do His proper work. Just as a doctor doesn't come into the examining room to hurt you, but if he is going to help he must poke, prod, and sometimes hurt first.
What comes after the poking, prodding, and hurting of the Law is what really gives birth to love. The Gospel that pronounces your sins forgiven is the fountainhead of love. The Gospel this woman heard was preached in 2 ways. It was preached as the free canceling of a debt and as the sending away of guilt. Imagine, I say imagine because it couldn't be that you are guilty like this woman. You couldn't have sins that are so bad that you can't make up for them. From your youth on you couldn't have piled up an unimaginable debt of sin. And you couldn't know the guilt that comes from such a debt: one that’s always there. Whether you're laughing, crying, loving, or dying, guilt is there relentlessly stabbing your heart. True love flows from that heavy of a debt being freely canceled. Love flows from that guilt being sent away from you. Love flows to Jesus from realizing that your debt was canceled freely because He paid it off by bleeding, suffering and dying. Love flows to Jesus from realizing that your guilt could be sent away by Him because He carried that weight away on His shoulders!
Men are wrong; love has something to do with salvation. Men are right; love is a secondhand emotion. Where it comes from is more important than how intense it feels. There is still another line from Tina that is relevant: "Who needs a heart because hearts can be broken?" Hearts are not reliable. Men trumpet this fact in defending their lack of emotion in spiritual things, and of course they’re right. Feelings can indeed mislead you. Simon in the text was very misled by his feelings. He felt this woman was nothing but a sinner mired in her sins. So he felt her acts of love were disgusting.
Yes, women are rightly warned not to think with their hearts because not only can they be broken, they are broke. Jeremiah says the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. But men need to be told that the Lord who gave us hearts can use them. A heart can be led by the truth into true emotions. The secondhand emotion of love can flow from firsthand truth. I admit; it’s hard for me to imagine a man responding in love towards Jesus the way this woman did. But Peter jumps in the water in an emotional rush to get to the risen Lord. John always refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." Paul says he cries over the fact that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Or consider the strong emotions of David in his Psalms or Jeremiah in his ministry. Women are to be cautioned not to let their love determine the truth; men need to be encouraged to let their emotions flow from the truth.
It's true; what this woman did was impetuous, impractical, humbling, and costly. But doesn't that describes some men's love for their wife early on in their romance? Don't you remember spending more money than you should? Didn't you buy things that had no practical value except that they showed your love? Didn't you ever humble yourself in public as your loved one giggled and begged you to please stop because people were starting to stare? Did you do it to win your wife's love? No, it flowed from the fact that you loved her already.
And this is where we want to be sure we leave this. Love really has nothing to do with getting forgiveness. This women didn't do all she did for Jesus in order to get forgiveness. She did it because she had it. Jesus does not say at the end, "Your sins are forgiven you," but, "Your sins have been, still are, and always will be forgiven you." Her love had nothing to do with getting forgiveness, but it had everything to do with having forgiveness.
Hearts broken by sin and guilt spill forth bile, bitterness, and baseness. New hearts created by forgiveness bubble forth love in a whole host of ways. But love flows not from feelings about forgiveness but from the fact of being forgiven. See how Christ roots the woman in the facts. Jesus assures her that she has been forgiven; her sins are really sent away, and she is not wrong to believe that. The Pharisees wanted to make her feel the full weight of her sins. They wanted her to be cut by their piercing stares, to feel the heat from their angry, condemning faces. But Jesus says, "You are not wrong to believe you're saved. You're not wrong to feel forgiven. You're not wrong for bubbling with impractical, costly, humbling love.
Then Jesus says one more thing to her. He says, "Go in peace." Here the factual and emotional meet. Here the male and female view of things blend. Is Jesus saying go with a peaceful feeling in your heart? Yes. But how? The Pharisees were still going to know her as "the woman who had lived a sinful life." Jesus literally says, "Go into peace." He’s directing her emotions. He says you can take all of your feelings, all your broken-heartedness and go into this place called "peace" that I give you in My name, for the sake of My blood and righteousness. From this peace I give you to go into flows the feeling of peace the world won't let you have.
Tina was right. Love has nothing to do with getting forgiveness; love is a secondhand emotion, and we really don't need the feelings of a broke heart. The peaceful feeling of being forgiven is another matter. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (20220703); Luke 7:36-50