Soren Kierkegaard always stressed ‘that single individual’ in his writings. He writes here about attending Holy Communion on Friday so that you don’t get lost in the crowd on Sunday. His preface once again calls out to “That single individual, whom I with joy and gratitude call my reader,” who might see it as he lets go of it as “an insignificant flower under the cover of the great forest”. (p. 89)
He based his discourses on three different passages from Scripture:
Hebrews 4:15 (The High Priest), Luke 8:13 (The Tax Collector), and Luke 7:47 (The Woman Who Was a Sinner).
The first discourse: The High Priest.
Where should we go if not to you Lord Jesus Christ! Where should the sufferer find sympathy if not in you, and where the penitent, alas, if not in you, Lord Jesus Christ!
Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to have sympathy with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in all things in the same way, yet without sin. (p. 91)
Kierkegaard has an extended discussion about finding someone who can put him or her self entirely into the place of another human being. Hence we hear the complaint about not being understood. “How can you understand me?”
He points to the high priest:
It was indeed sympathy that determined him to come to the world; and it was again sympathy, it was in order to be able to have true sympathy, that he, by a free decision, became tested in all things in the same way, he who can entirely put himself and entirely puts himself in your, in my, in our place. (p. 92-93)
Have you lost all your friends? Well, so did he. Are you worried about poverty? He had nowhere to lay his head.
You complain that no one can put himself in your place; preoccupied day and night with this thought, it perhaps never occurs to you, I can imagine, that you should console others. (p. 95) Christ was the Consoler, so do likewise.
Whoever you are and however you suffer, he can entirely put himself in your place. Whoever you are and however you are tempted, he can put entirely put himself in your place. Whoever you are, oh sinner, as we all are, he puts himself entirely in your place! You go up now to the altar, the bread and wise are handed to you once more, his holy body and blood, once more as an eternal pledge that by his suffering and death he put himself also in your place, so that you, saved behind him, the judgment past, may enter into life, where in turn he has prepared a place for you. (p. 100)
The second discourse: The Tax Collector.
Lord Jesus Christ, let your holy spirit truly enlighten and convince us of our sin, so that we, humbled with downcast eyes, acknowledge that we stand far, far off and sigh: “God be merciful to me a sinner.” But then let it also happen to us by your grace according to your word about that tax collector who went up to the temple to pray: he went home with his house justified.
Luke 18:13 And the tax collector stood far off and would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast and said: God be merciful to me a sinner! (p. 100)
Kierkegaard writes of “the upbuilding element in the gospel’s simplicity”, the tax collector is a model for going to communion while the Pharisee is a model of hypocrisy. The tax collector “stood far off” because “in relation to God it seems to you as if you are closer to God when several are present, and not until you are literally alone with him do you discover how far away you are.”
The Pharisee went to communion but he didn’t discover his sins, he discovered the “others”. His pride “consisted precisely in this, that he proudly used those other people to measure his distance from them, that before God he could not manage to get past the thought of those other people but held onto this thought in order then to stand proudly by himself – in contrast, to those other people. But that is certainly not to stand by oneself, least of all is it to stand by oneself before God.” (p. 102)
Kierkegaard certainly fought against comparison in his writings. The Pharisee compared himself with the other – the tax collector – the tax-collector was alone with God – there were no others between him and God. The tax-collector looked up and saw God and he saw his sin so he looked down, he didn’t look sideways like the Pharisee did, and the tax collector became “dizzy” in the presence of God’s holiness. (p. 103)
[The tax-collector] “went home to his house justified. For what scripture says about all tax collectors and sinners, that they came near to Christ, applies also to this tax collector: precisely by standing far off, he came near to him, while the Pharisee in presumptuous impertinence stood far, far off. Thus the picture is inverted. It begins with the Pharisee standing near, the tax collector far off; it ends with the Pharisee standing far off, the tax collector near.” (p. 105)
The third discourse. The Woman Who Was a Sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, in order properly to be able to pray to you about everything, we pray to you about one thing: help us so that we may love you much, increase the love, inflame it, purify it. Oh, and this prayer you will hear, you who indeed surely are not – cruelly – love in such a way that you are only the object, indifferent to whether anyone loves you or not; you who indeed are not – in anger – love in such a way that you are only judgment, jealous of who loves you and who does not. Oh no, you are not like that; then you would only instill fear and anxiety, then it would be terrifying “to come to you,” frightful “to abide in you,” and then you would not even be the perfect love that casts out fear. No, mercifully, or lovingly, or in love, you are indeed love in such a way that you yourself love forth the love that loves you, encouraging it to love you much.
Luke 7:47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins are forgiven her, for she loved much. (p. 108)
This woman hated herself so she went to communion with Christ at the house of the Pharisee. She loved Christ more than she loved her sins. “She hated herself: she loved much.” She didn’t even have a name. Her name was: the woman who was a sinner. (Luke 7:36-50) But, still, she had an”encounter with the light.” (p. 109) She has entirely forgotten herself. Now she can stop hating herself and just love much.
Kierkegaard makes of the woman who was a sinner an occasion for a discourse on Holy Communion.
She makes not a sound; neither does she make assurances – oh, simply far too often a deceitful expression so easily necessitates a new assurance that it actually is as one assures. She does not make assurances, she acts; she weeps, she kisses his feet. She does not think of checking her tears, no, weeping is after all her task. She weeps; it is not her eyes that she dries with her hair, it is his feet – she is capable of literally nothing at all, he absolutely everything. (p. 111)
An Upbuilding Discourse Dec 20, 1850
The Woman Who Was a Sinner. Luke 7:37ff.
Kierkegaard was fond of the woman who was a sinner so he wrote another discourse with the same title. He repeated himself in a way. Howard Hong included it in his book Without Authority.
On the whole, there is one thing that is very common; you can find it in each and in everyone, in yourself just as I find it in myself: sin and sins. There is one thing that is very rare: true sorrow over one’s sin, which no doubt is why it is made necessary every holy day to pray in the opening prayer in the church service “that we might learn to sorrow over our sins.” Happy is the one in whom there is true sorrow over his sin, so that the extreme unimportance to him of everything else is only the negative expression of the confirmation that one thing is unconditionally important to him, so that the unconditional unimportance to him of everything else is a deadly sickness that still is very far from being a sickness unto death but is precisely unto life, because the life is in this, that one thing is unconditionally important to him: to find forgiveness. Happy is he; he is very rarely seen. My listener, this is seen often enough in the world, a person for whom the unimportant has become important, even more often people for whom all sorts of things have become important, and rarely a person for whom only one thing is important, and even more rarely a person of whom it is true that the one single thing that is unconditionally important to him is in truth the one and only important thing.
Pay attention, then, to the woman who was a sinner, so that you may learn from her. (p. 152 Without Authority)
Discourses at the Communion on Fridays by Soren Kierkegaard November 13, 1849 Translated by Sylvia Walsh, Indiana University Press, 2011 – She translated thirteen discourses but this post is about the Three Discourses at the Communion on Fridays (1849)
An Upbuilding Discourse Dec 20, 1850 (En opbyggelig Tale) The Woman Who Was a Sinner. Luke 7:37ff. From Without Authority p. 145-160 Hong translation 1997