“the Ikea Effect” vs Faith

It is called the “Ikea Effect”[1]. Ikea Effect is named after the store that began in Sweden that features build it yourself furniture.  Researcher Dan Ariely has studied how we assign more value to things we make–like assembling furniture, cooking meals, knitting socks.  Often we will value that item more than it would objectively be valued.  So, for instance we buy a self-assemble desk, put it together, maybe with a few missteps, crack or chip a piece of wood here or there, maybe even do our own not quite or not even close to professional paint job, and walah we have the most valueable and precious desk, at least in our eyes. And since this is Father’s Day, we could ask whether men suffer from this condition more than women.  But I won’t be the judge of that.

Needless to say, the Ikea effect didn’t begin with the store.  It is a far older condition, dating at least back to the first century, to Jesus’ own day.  We can observe this Effect in the story we read this morning from Luke’s Gospel.

A Pharisee, who we learn later is named Simon invites Jesus to come to his house and have dinner with him.  As the men are reclining around the table, they are interrupted as an unnamed, but evidently well known woman enters and opens an alabaster jar, places  ointment on Jesus feet, rubs it in, washes and massages his feet with her hands, her hair, her tears, her lips.

Seeing this, Simon the religious leader thinks to himself, note he doesn’t say this out-loud, because of course that would be rude, but he thinks it, and well Jesus evidently even has a problem with that.  This religious man takes Jesus allowing this woman to touch him as evidence that Jesus mustn’t be a prophet, mustn’t really be sent fromGod because he is allowing this woman, who is evidently a well-known sinner in the community (although we don’t know the specific sins, we don’t know her whole story much like we don’t know the whole story of the people sitting around us or standing in front of you).  But Jesus is allowing her to touch him.  For the religious leader this is disgraceful; this is shameful,this thing happening right in front of him.

The religious leader has passed judgement on both Jesus and the woman, and both of them are not as righteous as himself–the woman for whatever things she’s done, and of course just being a woman, and Jesus because he’s letting her get too close to him.  They are figuratively tearing apart the way the society has built has established itself.

The Pharisee on the other hand, in his eyes he’s done everything right.  He follows the rules, he lives according to God’s law, he knows better, he acts better, his relationship to God is better, face it he is better.  And all because of what he does.  He has built himself a great system that keeps him close to God and far away from the dirty and the sinful.  He has built his own righteousness, his own salvation, his own little ladder (stairway) to heaven.  He is suffering from the Ikea Effect, and he doesn’t even know it.  Of all the people in need of God’s love and forgiveness in this story, the greatest isn’t the “sinful woman” but the “sinless” Simon.

Jesus long before economic behavioralists came up with the catchy name like the  Ikea Effect, Jesus knew what was wrong with Simon.

Jesus points out to this religious leader that the woman is actually a better model of faith than the Pharisee because she knows she needs God, she knows she isn’t even close to perfect.  Her tears are tears of love and thankfulness, her actions are of great love and gratitude, because in Jesus she has seen the love and forgiveness of God.  She sees a God who loves and welcomes sinners, who eats with them, holds them and heals them, doesn’t judge them for what they’ve done, doesn’t condemn them and forget them, try to stay safe and clear of them.  because of Jesus was just like them.

This separation that we build can be so sublte.  We can say to ourselves, “isn’t it great that we come to church here so that we can help the suffering, help the poor”.  Instead of realizing that we are just like them, we suffer (maybe not with economic poverty) but we all suffer a poverty of spirit, we all suffer a poverty of love, poverty of knowledge of what life, what struggle is like is for others, poverty of compassion, poverty of courage to work for justice, to work for a better community, or world.

What that nameless woman knew and felt in the core of her being, what Simon needed to know too, was the love of Jesus.  The love of Jesus that keeps us from building ourselves up at the expense of others, the love of Jesus that keeps us from building  ourselves up as better, building  ourselves up as more righteous, more blessed than others.  The cure for sin of every kind, even that which can be called the Ikea effect–it is the love of Jesus in our hearts, in our words, in our actions, and in our thoughts.  Then together, it will be God’s kingdom that we build.  Amen.


[1] “The Upside of Irrationality: the unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home”, Dan Ariely.

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