Luke writes like a mystery writer. You get crucial evidence late in the story. It makes sense of some of what has preceded, changes the way you see other events. Luke does it today. We only learn part way through this scene that Jesus has not been shown the proper hospitality. Simon the Pharisee should have washed his feet, kissed him, and oiled his head. That’s what you do for any guest. It goes without saying, so we don’t even think about it when Luke tells us Jesus is eating at Simon’s table. Part way through the scene, Jesus delivers the shocking news. He has not been washed and anointed. He is not here as an honored guest, or just as a guest. What is he? Maybe he’s the entertainment. You know, he raises dead guys at their funerals. He teaches wacky stuff. Maybe Simon invited him to come over and do some parlor tricks or say something off the wall. Neither Jesus nor the nameless woman who washes his feet are human in the eyes of Simon. Simon wants to speak both of Jesus and of the woman as objects he can evaluate and judge.
Luke is not alone in writing in this manner, nor is Simon the Pharisee alone in ignoring humanity. Near the end of 2 Sam come 29 verses that contend for the status of oldest writing in the book, if not the Bible. They contain the list of David’s 37 most loyal mighty warriors who slew hundreds with their spears, and stuck with him through it all, without whom he was nothing. They are mostly names unknown to us. Elhanan son of Dod of Bethlehem? Anyone know him? Ira the Ithrite? Gareb the Ithrite? Two Ithrites, eh? I bet when you drive into that town the sign says, “Home of Ira and Gareb”. And then the list ends, “and Uriah the Hittite.” Oh, right, that guy. They do that on purpose. It’s like the opening credits of Seinfeld. Starring Jerry Seinfeld, then the other main cast members, then the regular secondary folks, and we’re not reading the names because we’re watching, and then it says “and Jason Alexander as George.” He is the costar. His name is at the end so we notice it. The author of Samuel makes sure Uriah is at the end of the list, so that we notice him. He’s important. He might not be the top guy on David’s list, but he and David are close.
The location of these verses is also a revelation, at the end, of details vital to today’s 2 Samuel text. Uriah the Hittite. Remember Uriah! Remember how mighty David murdered his sidekick in a scheme that sounds like something a James Bond villain would hatch. We’ll have a battle, and we’ll put Uriah in the front, and then fall back from him and lose on purpose. In the final assessment of David, the author will not allow us to forget Uriah and what David did to him. David’s murder conspiracy denies Uriah his life; David has already written him off as a human being. It started the moment David saw Bathsheba taking her naked rooftop bath and sent for her. Uriah was dead to him. He was an annoyance, a complication. He was an object, who could be maneuvered and disposed of. The murder at that point was easy. Uriah already was no longer a human.
God gives humanity. In 2 Samuel, Nathan the prophet appears. He tells a particularly timely story. “What if this happened to a sheep?” Perhaps today he might ask, “What if this happened to a gorilla?” We have this horrifying ability to deny humanity to others. We’ll project it onto animals. Every pet owner knows that their pet has complex abstract thoughts, even though their brains are unable to do this. But humans can lose their humanity in the blink of an eye. We share this with David. Nathan asks: “What if this happened to a sheep?” “I would kill the man who did that!” “THEN WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU DOING WITH URIAH?!?!” Nathan’s name means “he gave.” He gave Uriah’s humanity back to him. David took it. God used Nathan to give it back. God used Nathan to restore what God made. In the gospel story, Jesus gives humanity to the nameless woman. Simon the Pharisee is taking it away; to him, Jesus is a performer and the woman is a sinner. So Jesus tells a story, an obviously made up example about two guys who don’t really exist. “What if a creditor forgave two debtors, one who owed five hundred days wages and another who owed fifty days wages?” “Oh, that would be a gracious act on his part, but the guy forgiven more will love the forgiver more.” “SO WHAT THE HELL IS YOUR DEAL WITH THIS WOMAN?!?! She is grateful because of God. And, if I may be so blunt, is a far better host than you. Her sins are forgiven.” And then, to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” She is human, because Jesus fights for her humanity.
Humanity theft is a common sin. We’ve watched in bemusement as a young man was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to a maximum of six months in prison; as the judge said any more prison might really hurt him; as his father appealed for leniency in what—giving it the best construction I can—was a poor choice of words. This young man denied his victim’s humanity. Watching from my safely detached position on social media it sure looks like his father and the judge also joined in denying her humanity. And she is one of many denied their humanity. Every time it happens, we hear excuse for why we deny her humanity. If he saw how she dressed. If he knew she got drunk at parties. If he knew she had multiple partners. If he knew what kind of woman this was, he would not allow her to touch him. What if she was a sheep? What if she was someone who owed five hundred days wages? Jesus demands an answer. When he demands that we answer, he demands our humanity from us. He tells us to act like creatures, whom God has made capable of treating others as human beings. What if she was a sheep? What if she owed a debt? What if she was me?
Jesus asks that question on our behalf. What if he was me? What if she was me? When Paul writes, “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me,” he testifies to Jesus’ demand: “What if Paul was me?” Paul knows that in a dehumanizing world, Jesus the Christ cries out, “What if Paul was me?” And that demand gives Paul the power to minister as boldly as he does. And that’s not special treatment for Paul; Paul is just a really good example. Jesus demands, “What if the widow is me?” “What if the school teacher is me?” “What if the teenager is me?” “What if the parent of young children is actually me?” “What if those who gather around the font and the table were me?” Every time we gather around the font. every time we ask for forgiveness, every time we receive the body and blood, every time we sing and pray as one in the Holy Spirit, Christ embraces us and says, “You are human. Your sins are forgiven. You are worth it to me.”
In the final assessment, God forgives us our sins on account of Christ, and promises us a place in God’s eternal kingdom, and because of that we are able to stand before the King Davids and the Pharisees Simon, giving humanity to those whom the world denies humanity. We are forgiven and inspired and empowered, and can ask, “So, yeah, what about Uriah the Hittite?” I think of the “open letter” the Vice President wrote to the victim in the Stanford Rape case. Joe Biden isn’t exactly in a position of weakness, mind you. But his letter, his words—“you are a warrior with a solid steel spine”—restore humanity to someone who has had it denied to her. We don’t have quite the stage that the Vice President of the United States has. We have homes. We have workplaces. We have shops and parks and theaters and galleries. We have town halls and public meetings and street corners. We might not have to stand before King David, but we might find ourselves at the table of Simon the Pharisee. We will, without a doubt, find ourselves facing a situation in which our fellow humans are denying humanity to others. Christ, who lives in us, is giving us the words: What if they were sheep? What if they owed five hundred days’ wages? What if they were Christ? You are human. Your sins are forgiven. You are worth it. Our words to the world, because they are Christ’s words to us.