"...Jesus is dining at the home of a Pharisee, and Pharisees, in these days, are religious rock-stars, they are dedicated to righteous living, robust faith, rigorous devotion. In the right-side-up world, they are the righteous. And in our story from Luke, who is righteous? The sinner.
I don't want to overstate the point, Jesus doesn't turn the world upside down to say that sinning is now righteous. She isn't righteous simply because she is a sinner. She is righteous because this sinful woman kneels before Jesus and weeps, and washes and anoints his feet.
We might condemn her too! We've heard this story before so the shock factor has worn off. But if this happened in our living rooms, wouldn't we freak out? A woman people look down on shows up and kneels at the feet of someone we admire, starts crying, begins washing his feet and rubbing her hair on them? I think we'd be embarrassed, totally uncomfortable, confused about what this means and what's going to happen next.
Well, maybe we wouldn't be as shocked as this Pharisee, cause we do feetwashing! Of course, so does this Pharisee, but presumably in the traditional way of 1st century Palestine – when a male guest comes over, the slaves wash his feet. Or the wife or daughters of the male head of house might wash the guest's feet. It's a sign of hospitality, and this Pharisee doesn't arrange for it so when this unnamed woman shows up and washes Jesus' feet, the Pharisee could be grateful that she is fixing his hospitality faux pas.
But he's too upset to be grateful. Because feetwashing at that time was only about the person whose feet are being washed. The one doing the washing is invisible, just a slave or a woman of the house – the point is to honor the male guest. But everything changes with Jesus, the upside-down king, who makes feetwashing an honor for everyone involved.
Jesus kneels to wash someone's feet and remember how upset Peter gets? And for 2000 years many people who follow Jesus have been challenging ourselves to kneel and wash someone's feet. And we've been dealing with the discomfort of someone else kneeling to wash our feet. We do it because Jesus tells us to do it. And maybe Jesus got the idea from this woman who did it first.
In the upside-down kingdom of God we find that kneeling brings us the highest standing. The last shall be first, and the first shall be last. The ones who try to sit at the best seat at the table will lose their seat altogether. The meek shall inherit the earth.
That's not good news for the Pharisee, who has been sitting in the good seat, who lives as a first, at least relative to other Jews. Is it good news for you? How are you a first? How are you a last?
Just by living in this country, we live as firsts. In this community, many of us live as firsts through white privilege, education, access to health care, and wealth – at least relative wealth, not worrying where our next meal will come from, many of us live as firsts in these ways.
Many of us live as firsts because we have citizenship documents, because we can use the bathroom without fear, because we can hold hands with the person we love, because we can get pulled over without panicking. Not all of us. But we each have ways that we lives as firsts.
So what does it mean to be first and also seeking the upside-down kingdom of God where the first shall be last and the last shall be first?
We turn to this story of the woman who does a beautiful thing. She brings her whole self to Jesus' feet. She knows what people say about her. She is called "sinful woman" rather than called by her own name. She weeps – wouldn't you? Haven't you, when you've lived with shame? When you've been called out of your name?
Upside-down king Jesus doesn't want us to show up in our Sunday best and show off our righteousness through boastful prayers or loud demonstrations of our wealth and power. He rejects that behavior over and over. Jesus looks for the short thief climbing the tree, Jesus loves the little children, Jesus blesses the blind, the begging, the bleeding.
She anoints him king of an upside-down kingdom where first shall be last and last shall be first. Where we each take our turn to kneel at another's feet and we each take a turn to watch someone kneel and wash our feet, and then we rise as equals in the upside-down kingdom. A kingdom where our righteousness comes not from pure and perfect living, but from pouring ourselves out in vulnerability and love.
This upside-down kingdom is all around us, as we strive to usher in God's kingdom working for justice, seeking peace, striving for equality. We're singing about turning the world upside-down with God in the hymn My soul cries out this morning. That's the upside-down kingdom around us.
And this upside-down kingdom is also within us, in the way we know our own worth, in the way we relate to our own strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, in the way we understand ourselves as first or last.
And we can usher in this upside-down kingdom inside ourselves right now, even when the world outside us seems as violent and cruel and unjust as ever. Even now, when the world seems as out of control, as far from God's kingdom as ever. We can usher in the upside-down kingdom inside ourselves when we overturn our values to look like Jesus' values.
Jesus praises this woman's faith, praises her service, calls her behavior beautiful when she seeks him out, in a place where she will be snubbed. She risks rejection because she chooses to value her own soul, her own healing, more than what others will say about her.
She pours her whole self out to him. She turns her weakness into strength as she cares for him. Her vulnerability is true ability, as she washes his feet, anoints him king, blesses him beautifully.
This is the paradox of faith, often the paradox of healing. When we let go of denial, when we stop hiding, when we step into the harsh light and are seen for who we are, there is nothing left to fear. We have found our way back to ourselves and it is the most beautiful thing, to be known.