One of my favorite country songs is Alabama's "Cheap Seats." It sings the praises of that minor league baseball magic - everything from the blind umps to the players' unknown names to the flat beer and greasy hot dogs - that is so prevalent throughout many American midsized towns. Perhaps the reason this song strikes such a deep chord in me is because when I lived in the Coastal Bend, I was one of those cheap seat dwellers.
A favorite pastime of mine on a sweltering Sunday afternoon was to spend five dollars and sit on the general admission lawn of Whataburger Field in the way, way, way outfield to watch the Corpus Christi Hooks play ball. Sure, the drinks were five bucks and the burgers were seven, but experiencing America's favorite pastime was priceless.
In our reading for today from Luke 7, we meet a woman who has "lived a sinful life" (verse 36). Exactly what her sinful life entailed, we do not know. In 591, Pope Gregory preached a sermon in which he identified her sin as that of prostitution. This identification, although speculative, has become a traditional one. Whatever the nature of her sin, this woman invites herself to a dinner party, hosted by a prominent Pharisee, which Jesus himself is attending. To do this would not have been especially unusual per se. For in this day, people of ill repute would often come to an elite meal, but they would always stay outside, away from the honorable guests who dined inside. In other words, they would sit in the "cheap seats," hoping to catch wind of the mealtime conversation that was taking place in the more expensive seats.
It is not scandalous, then, that this sinful woman would come to a house full of religious leaders where a well-known and well- respected teacher like Jesus was dining. What is scandalous, however, is that she would actually enter the house and approach Jesus:
She brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. (verses 37-38)
What in the world is this woman doing? She is leaving her cheap seat outside of this dinner party and heading for an expensive seat right next to Jesus! And Jesus does nothing about it! The Pharisee hosting the dinner party cannot contain his incredulity at this shocking breach of social etiquette. He says, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is - that she is a sinner" (verse 39). The syntax of this Pharisee's sentence is instructive. In Greek, this is a contrary-to-fact conditional statement. That is, this Pharisee implies that Jesus is not a prophet. A paraphrase of this sentence might read, "If you were a prophet Jesus, but you're not, then you would know that this is a sinful woman who is anointing you!"
Jesus wastes no time responding to this man's stinging accusation:
Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven. (verses 44-47)
Jesus forgives this woman's sins. He "pays the price," as it were, for her to sit next to him in an expensive seat around the mealtime table. Without cost, Jesus moves this woman up from the cheap seat of her sin to the costly seat of his salvation.
Every once in a while, I would get to sit in a front row seat right on the third base line at a Corpus Christi Hooks game. There was a friend of mine at the congregation I was serving who had season tickets for the Hooks and would regularly invite me to go to games with him. Interestingly, these "expensive seats" were actually less costly for me than even my five dollar "cheap seats" because my friend would always pick up the tab. On these occasions, my seat wasn't just cheap, it was free.
So it is with the forgiveness that comes from God. When Jesus moves us up from the cheap seats of our sin to the privileged seat of his salvation, he doesn't just do it for cheap, he does it for free. For he has already paid the price for that seat of salvation on the cross. So today, take a seat with Jesus. It won't cost you a thing.