“A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?” Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The others at table said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Afterward he journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.”
This Gospel passage from Luke contains a rich contrast between two types of persons, represented by the Pharisee and the ‘sinful woman’. There have not small number of people who have reached deep into the invisible text of Scripture to somehow surmised that the sins of this woman was ‘prostitution’ and that her name was Mary of Magdala. To the contrary, the Pharisees lumped all those whom they regarded as having a ‘low reputation’, such as thieves and prostitutes other whose sins were blatant and obvious, into one group people called ‘hamartolos‘ in Hebrew; meaning anyone who is devoted to sin. This is Jesus’ first treatment of these types of people in Luke.
That this woman is the disciple Mary, called Magdalene, who Jesus delivered from seven demons (Cf. Lk. 8:2) hinges on the assumption that she was prostitute, which the text doesn’t say either. Being that Luke does not have any problem, whatsoever, dropping names in other narratives throughout his Gospel, the fact that he decides here to omit them in preference of the descriptions – ‘A Pharisee’ and ‘a sinful woman’, is our first clue that the central message of this narrative is that the reader should see themselves in these characters. That is, more than it being a historical event, this narrative is a didactic event drawn from the ministry of Jesus Christ.
We don’t know for certain why the Pharisee invited Jesus to into his home to dine with him. Apparently from his response, “If this man were a prophet,” he has at least heard from others who people think Jesus is based upon His teachings and miracles. As for this particular Pharisee’s own assessment of Jesus, based upon his disrespectful treatment, by not affording Him any measure of customary oriental hospitality (e.g. greeting guests with a kiss, washing guests feet, and anointing the guests’ head) it seems clear that had pre-judged Jesus as being an unclean outsider. For, if he considered Jesus to be inside or reconciled to the Jewish community, he would not have been stingy with his hospitality. While he might have been open to the idea of Jesus being a prophet, he and the others there are definitely repelled by the idea of Jesus being one with the Father, “The others at table said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
In contrast to the Pharisee, the ‘sinful woman’ assesses Jesus as someone greater than prophet; someone who has the power and authority to forgive her “many sins”. The irony here is that early in Luke, “The Pharisees and their scribes complained to [Jesus] disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinner?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (Lk. 5:30-31). Now, Jesus is here dinning with a Pharisee, and it is still the sinner – the sick who responds to His call to be healed and not the righteous. The sinful woman is the one who bestowed upon the Lord the customary hospitality which He was due. The Pharisee sees his guest (Jesus) as an unclean outsider, but she sees Him has a guest in her heart.
The sinful woman doesn’t have a bowl of water, a wet cloth, or even a dry cloth, but she gives Jesus everything of value that she believes she does have. She brings to Him all that she has of value; her whole self and an alabaster flask of ointment and gives it all to Jesus. Her tears, hair, and ointment become her hospitality. In the myopic and objective eyes of the Pharisee she was just an unclean and habitual sinner, but to Jesus this was a woman who loves Him greatly because she is so grateful over her immense debt being forgiven.
“But the one whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Here, Jesus connects love with faith. To have great love of Christ, we must have first come to the bright awareness that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. We must have come to realize that we owe a debt that we cannot pay ourselves. The first step in moving towards a truly Christ-centered love is receiving the grace of humility, through which we realize that we can’t do it alone anymore; we need our Creator to help us be who He created us to be.
A faith grounded in humility always leads to sacrificial love. Like the ‘sinful woman’ we too become unashamed for our love for Christ, looked upon with hate by those who believe they are better than us, tripping over ourselves to adore Him, and giving to God all that we value, because we’ve come to realize that nothing we have in this world has value unless it is given to Him first. We weep at the feet of the Lord, because we realize that I am nothing without you. Even the ends of my hair belong to you. In my sins I cannot bear to look at you, but may I just kiss the feet of my Lord? I don’t need a name or a title, because not even that matters. I am just sinner you love and who loves you.
As you reflect upon the readings at Mass today, here are some questions for you to consider:
- How in awe are you of the debts that you have been forgiven by Christ Jesus?
- How much of you do you give to the Lord on a daily basis? Where is there room for improvement?
- Think about a time or times when you demonstrated your love for Jesus in public. How were you blessed afterwards for having done so?
“Blessed is the one whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered. Blessed the man to whom the LORD imputes not guilt, in whose spirit there is no guile.
I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not. I said, “I confess my faults to the LORD,” and you took away the guilt of my sin.
You are my shelter; from distress you will preserve me; with glad cries of freedom you will ring me round.
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you just; exult, all you upright of heart.”
Scripture texts in this blog are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.