Sometimes, when reading the Bible, you’d be justified in thinking that it was all men, all the time, taking, teaching, going to war, and getting into trouble while the women were absent. In some ways, this might have been true – women were expected to stay, for the most part in their homes. It’s true that many women died during childbirth but then again, men died all the time as well from anything from battles to simple infection from the smallest wounds. Women were there, but often they were hidden away or weren’t seen to be important enough to mention. Beyond a few important exceptions, this was the way it was until Jesus came along.
When we read the Gospels, especially Luke, women start showing up everywhere and Luke tends to pair stories about men with stories of women. He put the story of the shepherd who lost the sheep with the woman who lost the coin. In today’s reading, we not only have women, but one that’s uninvited.
Jesus has been invited to a dinner party in the home of a pharisee named Simon for some lively debate. This shouldn’t be seen as all that unusual because in Jewish culture, small talk wasn’t the order of the day amongst religious teachers. When pharisees gathered, the arguments began – it was the way they challenged each other and learned from each other. It’s really not all that fair that the Pharisees were seen as the villains of these stories. By and large they were good and faithful people. The arguments we hear are exactly what we should expect but maybe they had a hard time outwitting Jesus.
Simon also is trying to gauge who this Jesus person is. He’s making quite a name for himself and so is curious if this really is a new prophet from God. They’re sitting around with the other guests and all of a sudden this woman barges in uninvited and starts anointing Jesus feet with ointment and het tears and then wiping them with her uncovered hair.
I’m sure this story will sound familiar to you because stories like this are in each Gospel but this time, it’s quite different. Luke puts this near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry while the others have this as a symbolic anointing for his death. In this case, this anointing is out of this woman’s love and is here to tell us about debt.
We’re told that this woman is a known sinner. Throughout history, people have assumed that this meant she was a prostitute but the Bible says nothing of the sort. This is just a symptom of the church’s obsession with what people do in their bedrooms. There are plenty of sins that have nothing to do with sex. Besides this, Mary Magdalene who’s introduced later in this story has also spent the past 1000 years being called a prostitute because she’s in the same reading. Again though, this is not Biblical.
What’s really important to this story is that she’s a sinner and Jesus is having this very intimate, loving interaction with her. Simon immediately figures that he can’t possible be the prophet people are saying he is because if he was, he’d surely have turned this sinful woman and her scandalous affections away.
Jesus can tell what he’s thinking and so tells a very short parable about how two people are forgiven a debt, one small and one very large. He asks who will be the most loving, the most grateful to the one who offers forgiveness, The pharisee answers correctly and says the one who was forgiven much.
Jesus in this parable is acknowledging that Simon is a good person. He’s invited Jesus into his home and has offered the standard level of hospitality. He’s lived a good life and obeyed the law. He’s the one who’s debt is small and therefore offers Jesus a small amount of love.
This woman though has not been following the law, she has much to be forgiven. She also seems to know that Jesus is the means of that forgiveness and so she offers him love proportionate to her forgiveness.
This makes sense doesn’t it? How often to you hear on the news about someone bumping into another, saying sorry and the other saying no problem. No big deal. When a gunman entered into an Amish school and killed many of the villages children, the community’s offer of forgiveness made international news.
If I gave one of you a dime and another a twenty, then said to you both, you don’t need to pay me back, which of you is going to see me as more generous?
But what if I gave you both a valuable antique but only one of you knew about the value? What if one of you thought it was just some silly looking vase? The one who knew the value of my gift would be the one who shows more gratitude, even though both gifts are the same.
God has given us tremendous gifts.
- We have unlimited get out of jail cards – always offered forgiveness, and all we’ve been asked to do in return is offer a bit of that same forgiveness to others
- We’ve been given a beautiful and bounteous planet to live on and all we’ve been asked to do in return is care for God’s creation and share this gift with others
- We’ve been given God’s love. We are loved without end that sustains us through every moment of our lives and all we’re asked in return is to offer that same love to our neighbours
First though, we need to recognize that we’ve been given this incredible gift – we have to appreciate how incredibly valuable this gift is. If we do this, the extravagant outpouring of love seen in this woman seems quite reasonable. Maybe this is why so many women found their way to Jesus – they were always reminded that they were of little worth, always one step away from being destitute and so they recognized how much they needed Jesus. Simon needed Jesus just as much, he just didn’t recognize it.
We have been given a gift beyond measure and it’s a gift we desperately need. The world needs a good portion of God’s love to be shared amongst all people. We need the wisdom of the gospel and this wisdom is the only way the world is going to get it’s feet out of the fires we’ve been busily stoking.
Recognize this gift and it’s value and then loving God, embracing the Gospel, and showing extravagant love to our neighbours will be the only reasonable response.