Lord Jesus Christ,
You call us to come
To be with you,
To hear your voice
To listen deeply to your word.
By your Spirit help me
To see you,
To hear your voice,
To follow you in all of life,
In the way of God’s gracious reality.
Third Sunday after Pentecost
The lectionary reading invites us to dinner—in the house of Simon, a Pharisee—along with Jesus who is also Simon’s guest. Since Jesus is judged as a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Luke 7:34,35), Simon is at risk in inviting this rabbi into his home. Jesus would be considered “unclean”, simply because of the company he chooses to keep. Imbedded in Simon’s belief and practice as a Pharisee was the need to be clean, to be righteous and acceptable before a holy God; eating with those who are defiled would render him unclean. But Simon does ask Jesus to dinner. And so we find ourselves here, reclining at table, in this Pharisees house along with Jesus.
Soon after the meal begins an uninvited guest arrives – a woman of the city who is labeled as a “sinner”. We are not given her name, only a label. She has heard that Jesus is here, and so comes carrying a jar of fragrant ointment—the trademark of her way of life as a woman who sells her body for sex. She stands at Jesus’ feet and begins to weep.
The self she has lived in—for many complex reasons—that self through which she allows her body to be used and abused—is now in the presence of the friend of sinners. And her deep inner self, hidden and afraid, but desiring above all to be received and at peace, weeps.
Like the prodigal son, she has come to her senses, has come home to herself. With the courage of hope that maybe here, for once, she could be known and seen for who she truly is, with the admission that she is lost, sinful, promiscuous, and unclean, she stands and weeps in the presence of Jesus – and Simon the Pharisee and other guests.
Her tears fall heavy and wet, bathing Jesus’ feet, washing away the dust and dirt of his journey of walking dirt roads to Simon’s house. The woman kneels now and kisses Jesus’ feet, then dries them with her long hair. Bowed low, her body speaking her humble confession, she kisses his feet again and again. Then, she dips her hand into her container of fragrant ointment and anoints his feet. The fragrance she has been using to ply her trade, is now transformed into holy and hospitable anointing.
But Simon is unable to see all this. Within himself he pronounces judgment: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” For Simon it is all about labeling: clean or unclean; holding back from being touched by anyone who is a sinner. And this woman is known for who she is and what she does! What kind of man is this Jesus?
But Jesus is a prophet. He sees and knows the woman, and he hears the conversation Simon is having within himself. And so he tells Simon a story – about two persons who owed money and were unable to pay off the debt: one a large amount, and the other a small amount. The creditor decides to cancel the debts for both, and Jesus asks Simon “which of them will love him more?” As we listen in on this conversation we hear Simon replying, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” Jesus responds, “You have judged rightly.” In wisdom and kindness, he affirms his host, then turning to face the woman kneeling at his feet, Jesus continues to address Simon.
“Do you see this woman?”
“I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet,
but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with
You gave me no kiss,
but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet.
You did not anoint my head with oil,
but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”
The Pharisee could not offer the gifts of hospitality: that would mean that Jesus would be touched. A distance needed to be held – for the sake of being righteous according to the Law – and so to be accepted before God. As a Jew and a Pharisee he is bound by the Law. Later the apostle Paul, a former Pharisee, who will help clarify the freedom which Jesus brings among us (see Galatians passage this week).
For Jesus it is not about the Law. He fulfills and moves beyond the Law of the Old Covenant. He brings the new thing that God is doing: this new thing is about love, grace, and forgiveness. It is about seeing deep into the heart, the inner habitat of the person. He sees Simon’s inner soul. And he sees the heart of the woman. One can only love a little. She loves much. Both are searching and hoping for peace with God.
Then Jesus speaks comfort to this woman who has ministered to with such kind hospitality: “Your sins are forgiven; your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
In her turning toward Jesus, she trusts, she has faith that somehow this friend of sinners would not reject her. And in this turning, she enters into the gracious space of God’s love and welcome in Jesus.
There are other women whose lives have been compromised through evil spirits and illnesses. In Jesus they have found healing and release, and they too minister to him. The resources of the woman at Simon’s house were tears, her hair as a towel, and fragrant ointment. These other woman give of their resources – probably in the way of food and money – to Jesus and his disciples as they walk “through cities and villages, proclaiming and bring the good news of the kingdom of God.”
What “resources” do you bring and offer to Jesus?
In what way might you still be bound by “rules and laws” rather than received and freed in grace?
How do you sense that you are received and seen by Jesus as you bring who you are and what you offer?
Third Sunday after Pentecost
- 6/7 Monday: Luke 7:36-50
- 6/8 Tuesday: Luke 8:1-3
- 6/9 Wednesday: Psalm 5:1-8
- 6/10 Thursday: 1 Kings 21:1- 21a
- 6/11 Friday: Galatians 2:15-21
- 6/12 Saturday: Luke 7:36-50
- 6/13 Sunday: Luke 8-1-3