Virtuous Vanilla Lip Balm, Jesus and a Prostitute

Once upon a time, a Christian entrepreneur got carried away and created a line of Jesus themed personal care products. The idea was to present “to-cool-for-school” unchurched types with an image of Jesus as irreverent, hip and ironic, and thus more acceptable. The result was this:


Of course, it’s possible that you’re not much of a flavored lip balm sort of guy or gal. Perhaps a “Looking good for Jesus” shopping bag is more your thing. Or bubble bath, hand cream, coin purse compact mirror and mini kit.

If you’re more of a dirty feeling person, you can check out the related line of products called “Wash your sins away” which includes towelettes, breath spray, lip balm and, of course, bars of soap.

Unfortunately for our stalwart business person, cautious Christian bookstores were uncomfortable with the pseudo-sexual overtones of the whole thing. They refused to stock the product line, despite an endorsement from a well known Christian Patriarchy leader. Desperate to empty reclaim the use of his third garage stall which was filled with product which had no place to go, the business person was forced to look for other markets. Eventually he found customers among the sort of small boutiques who cater to the “too-cool-for-school” crowd.

OK, I totally made that whole story up. Although you have to admit that my “failed evangelization tool” story is shockingly plausible.  The truth is I have no idea what on God’s green earth compelled someone to create such a thing. But this is (or at least was a couple years ago) a real product. The tagline for the product line is “Look your Sunday best! Guaranteed to help you be worthy and get noticed by the King of Kings”.

So what do y’all think about this sort of thing? Does something like this look like another opportunity to display righteous anger. Or perhaps it’s a chance to prove that we’re open minded and hip enough to laugh at or ignore such things. Not surprisingly, I learned of the existence of this product line from a news item reporting that it had been pulled from stores in Taiwan after complaints from Christian customers. (FYI – I first wrote about this over 4 years ago. Not a current event!)

In his book The Poet and the Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes by Kenneth Bailey there is a lovely explanation of the story of the prostitute who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair at the Pharisee Simon’s house. (Luke 7:36-50). I think that his explanation of this woman’s actions is relevant today:

Jesus is known and the community has heard him. He is invited to a banquet for further discussion. At such scenes in the traditional Middle East, the doors are open and the uninvited are free to wander in. Jesus and the other guests are reclining on low couches for the meal. Yet in the dynamics of the scene something is missing. . . the accepted rituals of welcoming the guest [foot washing, kiss of greeting, anointing with oil] are not merely overlooked . . . but have been callously omitted by a judgmental host. . . the insult would have been unmistakable.

She [the prostitute of the story] has heard from the community where [Jesus] was to be entertained. . . she has come prepared . . . Her intent is to pour the flask [of perfumed oil] on his feet. . . She witnesses the harsh insult that Jesus receives when he enters the house of Simon, as Simon deliberately omits the kiss of greeting and the foot washing. The insult to Jesus has to be intentional and electrifies the assembled guests. War has been declared and everyone waits to see Jesus’ response. . . he absorbs the insult and the hostility behind it and does not withdraw. . . The woman is totally overcome. They have not even extended to him the kiss of greeting! Her devotion, gratitude, and anger mix. . . Rushing boldly forward she then breaks down and literally washes his feet with her tears. Now what? She has no towel! Simon would not give her one if she asked for it. So she lets down her hair and with it wipes his feet. After smothering them with kisses, she pours out her precious perfume on the feet of the one who announced God’s love for her, who is being abused by this calloused company. She is offering her love and trying to compensate for the insult that Jesus has just received.”

I just love this. Now, odds are good that “Looking Good for Jesus” was not created by a Christian person. Much more likely, this product line is the result of the same impulses that motivated a man like Simon 2000 years ago. Even before his death, people were already seeking shocking ways to demonstrate that Jesus is inferior, not to be taken seriously or even afforded basic respect.

It’s so easy to become indignant and outraged. Yet, how often is that all we do? If this woman had called out her outrage or stormed off in protest, no one would remember her. Instead, she rushes forward to honor, love and serve Jesus. And now she is remembered through the ages. But Jesus provided her with an even greater gift than being known in perpetuity. When Jesus tells her that her sins are forgiven at the end of the story, he also identifies himself with God. Only God has the power to forgive sins. The text notes that Jesus was looking at this woman as he spoke.

Happily, there seems to be a growing consensus among many Christians that we need to stop starting fights, boycott or even trying to out-hip those who want to carry on the grand tradition of the Pharisee Simon. No doubt following the example of an impetuous prostitute is closer to what Jesus would want us to do.

5 thoughts on “Virtuous Vanilla Lip Balm, Jesus and a Prostitute

  1. In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe , where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise. –Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate

    If God is watching us, as some believers suggest, as though we were a television show and God had a lot of free time, the deity would surely be bemused by how dumbed-down devotion has sometimes become in this so-called modern era. How might an omnipotent being with the long view of history respond to those who visit the traveling exhibit of a grilled-cheese sandwich, sold on eBay, that is said to bear the image of the Virgin Mary? It certainly argues against intelligent design, or at least intelligent design in humans. –Anna Quindlen, Newsweek, 01-02-06

  2. William Herzog, whom I like, quotes Bailey from time to time…

    But the part about “Jesus identifies himself with God” — Yes & no:

    That is, Jesus probably did identify himself with God — & saw that same identification at work in other people as well. Although I seriously doubt he spoke in the high-fallutin style of ‘John’, I’m sure that those mystic insights were a downplayed, but genuine part of the tradition. (As a Hindu ‘avatar’ he would have been quite at home; but Judaism wasn’t suited for that perspective — no more so than conventional Islam in Hallaj’s day.)

    And no, saying “Your sins are forgiven” is not saying, “I forgive your sins,” but “_____ [‘God’] forgives your sins.” It implies more than the usual human level of knowledge, but doesn’t imply that the speaker is making it happen.

    [I read your ‘Don’t read’ post, but don’t expect me to admit it. Rebecca Trotter on tour? Maybe, maybe not; are you sure you aren’t already carrying a significant ministry?]

    1. Oh geeze – The Upside Down World on tour? LOL I hadn’t thought of that! I could get fancy light equipment and hire a band! Ha! I hope that wasn’t what it sounded like – that I’ve got the “start a fancy, high profile celebrity preaching ministry” bug or some such. It has always been my dream to be able to talk directly to people, but I was thinking more retreat or workshop level. But mostly I’m just realistic that (1) a lot more people watch videos than read blogs and (2) I’m a better speaker than writer. I mean – have you seen the random gibberish and grammatical errors I spout off around here?!

      Maybe I need to re-write my donation page/description. I can get so stuck in my own head sometimes that I don’t always realize how what I’m saying sounds totally different than what I intend. I try not to let that happen, but it does.

      Bailey is so academic and so hard to read that I always hesitate to recommend him to anyone. He is crazy knowledgable but he seems to feel the need to dump absolutely everything he knows onto the page. It ends up being a lot to wade through to get to a point. But you might be able to appreciate him. He’s totally worth reading and if I were teaching a course on the parables, the book I reference by him would be the main text.

      1. The ability to write as if you were actually present and talking to us — as you do — is rarer than you think. Random gibbers & grammatical errors are a side effect… So maybe you won’t be writing Literature for the 22nd Century — but this is likely the time when people most need to be clued in. The honesty, too, is refreshing & unusual.

        I can’t say about how well you speak — but that’s a more common talent. Maybe more in demand now — but is the video audience eager for what you have to say? As a bookivorous avatism, I’m too out of touch with that group to say…

        If you belonged to a group of Quakers, we would set you down (if you asked) with what we call a ‘clearness committee’, a group of people charged to help you reach whatever decision you’re called to. If they’re doing this right, they are not supposed to tell you what that might be; but to ask the right questions and let you answer them. Whether there’s a group near enough that would try this with an unfamilar person, well, that seems unlikely… but I wonder what they’d say… Whoever you might ask, that kind of procedure seems called-for.

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