My fifth post on topics ranging from holidays to the glory of a woman’s hair (and a man’s if it looks good!) to the pregnant girl who sat in front of me in senior English class.
As I was growing up, my dad tried to teach us how to be proper in the way we addressed adults, how we held our forks, and how we were to wear a shirt at the dinner table. (We spent summer days shirtless and shoeless, not because we were poor, but because it was … uh, summer in Arizona.) Dad grew up in Connecticut but relocated to the West in time to correct us when we would refer to one of our aunts or uncles by their first name. We’d simply call them Bobby, Jan, and Katy. But Dad would offer: Uncle Bobby, Aunt Jan, Aunt Katy, usually in his formal New English “ohnt.”
It’s off putting whenever a child, like a friend of our girls’, addresses me as Matt. Not Pastor Matt. Not Mr. Owens. Or even Mr. Matt. For a ten year old to call me plainly Matt is strange. I don’t hold this view because I’m a pastor and exact due respect (like Reverend Owens, weird!), but because we teach our children to address adults as Mr. ______ and Mrs. _______. I do want relationships with the girls’ friends, because it’s important that we know them and for them to know us. Someday they might turn to Cindy and me about something they don’t feel comfortable talking to their mom or dad about. The title of mister or misses doesn’t have to preclude familiarity.
The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet was deeply respectful and yet entirely familiar. It is an age-old debate, our approach to God: familiarity or reverence? I’ll post about this seeming contradiction next week. For now I’ll point out in the text a few cultural things we’d normally miss here in America in 2010, three aspects of hospitality Simon the host missed.
- It was customary in Judea for the host to provide his guests with at least a water basin to wash their feet, which were normally sandaled and thus dirty from streets traversed by both people and all manner of animals. Normally, a well-to-do host, such as Simon the Pharisee, would enlist a servant to wash his guests’ feet. Simon did neither. In contrast, the woman wept sufficiently to cover Jesus’ feet. Were they tears of joy, as women are inclined to shed? Or perhaps tears of sorrow over her sin.
- A common greeting on any occasion, much less a formal gathering, was a kiss. Here in the U.S., a handshake is customary, of course. A boy must be taught how to properly shake hands (firm but not crippling). Simon ignored the conventional kiss, maybe because he disliked Jesus (an understatement) and only extended an invitation to entrap him in some sort of theological debate, something the Pharisees liked to do but were unsuccessful at with Jesus. Simon didn’t, but the woman kissed the feet of Jesus, having bowed down before him (a common worship posture). In Greek, the word worship derives in essence from “kiss towards.” The woman worshiped with her kiss.
- It was a kind gesture to anoint with olive oilthe head of one’s guests. This seems a little strange but something I talked a little about in Letting Go (Part 3). Oil is often symbolic of God’s Spirit. It’s something refreshing and soothing and is found in a beloved Psalm frequently featured at funerals: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (23:5). Simon provided no oil but the woman lavished expensive perfume.
It is evident that Simon in no way expressed any affection toward Jesus. He offered no respect to a revered teacher and prophet. The woman knew Jesus as more than a teacher and prophet; she discovered him as her Messiah, the one who rescued her from her sins. Respectful actions can definitely be taught—and faked—but a heart that seeks to honor must be renewed. Simon’s was callous and conniving, but the woman’s was soft and broken and without false motive.
What do you think? In what ways do we show respect to God? How do we disrespect him?
Also, if you hear one of our kids addressing an adult improperly, you have our permission to smack ‘em and say: “Now, I know your mama and daddy taught you better.”
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