About 20 years ago there was a movie called Leap of Faith, starring Steve Martin and Debra Winger. Martin played Jonas Nightengale, a fraudulent preacher that went around doing revivals with the help of technology, a performer who could play an audience like a master and outwit a sheriff who knew what he really was and didn’t believe him. There was a crippled boy in the town that wanted to be healed: Jonas avoided him and tried to get away from healing him, but when the boy approached a crucifix Jonas used as a prop, he was able to throw away his crutches. It caused a great conflict for Jonas, because he knew he was a self-centered fake who really didn’t believe in God and here was a miracle almost unquestionably from God. The biggest threat to Jonas’ act wasn’t the cops, it was the genuine article, and when he ran across the genuine article, he didn’t know what to do. By the end of the movie, it changed him and what he was able to do.
In today’s Gospel story, there’s a scam going on. Simon the Pharisee isn’t the genuine article, and he’s invited Jesus to supper with an agenda in mind: public humiliation. He’s having Jesus over, but he’s not going to do any of the usual acts of hospitality hosts are expected to do; it’s like inviting someone over to your house today and then ignoring them, not even taking their coat or asking if they want anything. It’s a party and Jesus is there, but he doesn’t matter.
Then a woman known to be a sinner take cares of Jesus. We don’t know what her sin is, it could be any number of things, and it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s an adulteress. It’s not right she’s there at all, but she is. In those days, people reclined at supper, resting on their left arm and reaching up to take the food with their right, their legs are back away from the table. The sinful woman is doing everything Simon should have done. When Jesus speaks up: “Simon, I have something to say to you,” this is what Simon’s been waiting for. He expects Jesus to make some terse comments about not being welcome and storm off in a huff. He expects a scene that will make Jesus look small, unimportant. He gets surprised.
Simon finds out via the parable, that the hospitality he’s left out has been provided. A person he finds unacceptable, whose name he can’t even say out loud, has done everything he should have, filled in the gap. Jesus is a welcome guest in his house even though he didn’t mean it that way. The story Jesus told showed everyone present just who the woman was and just who he was. Simon saw the genuine article of hospitality and faith, and it destroyed his pretense. Simon was the one who came off badly, shown up by someone he considered an outcast.
I think most of us can relate to the sinful woman more than Simon, or at least, I hope we can relate to her more. We know how far short we fall, we don’t try to pretend we’re something we’re not with God. What we can do is try to be the genuine article: to offer love and hope and healing where we can, to help people as we can, from the love of God Christ has put in our hearts. We can turn away from the pretense of faith, the empty show of something we don’t really believe and turn toward Jesus, who makes up for whatever we don’t have.
Jesus brings us to this banquet of the Eucharist today, and makes us welcome. He makes up for what we lack, He makes us whole. He is the genuine article, and makes us genuine even if we don’t feel we are. How we respond to him is what makes the difference. Do we worry about putting on a good show, or do we look for what’s real inside us, for Christ dwelling in us, for the genuine article that makes all the difference?
It’s because of the presence of Christ in us that we are the genuine article. That’s something that gives us the capability of calling ourselves Christian.