Two of the Lectionary readings for this Sunday are about the difficulty of welcoming outsiders. In the one, Galatians 2:11-21, we hear about the argument between St Peter and St Paul about accepting Gentile Christians. In the other, Luke 7:36-8:3, Jesus has his feet anointed by a woman who could have been a prostitute.
The Galatians story is from the early days of the Christian church, when the few Jews who had accepted Jesus as Messiah were working out how to deal with those from outside Judaism who had found Christ for themselves. Christianity, or following The Way as it was more commonly known then, was essentially a Jewish faith, a sort of subset of classic Judaism, but in the main followers still observed the customs.
The argument between Peter and Paul was over whether acceptance of Christ by faith was enough to overcome the previous strict demands of the Jewish law. If it was, anyone could come inside.
The Jesus story was about whether sinful people, in this incident a woman, could be accepted in polite Jewish society. The woman, who is unnamed, breaks into a Pharisee’s dinner party and anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and her tears before wiping them with her hair.
This had scandalised the host who doesn’t get away easily as Jesus tells one of his pointed parables about forgiveness, grace and acceptance.
Here’s the question for us: are the people we accept as insiders any more worthy than those we would prefer to keep outside. And what should we do when God breaks the rules and invites IN someone we think ought to be OUT?
Over to you.