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Part 2: The woman, Jesus, and Simon the Pharisee

March 9, 2009

Luke 7: 36-50

We continue on from yesterday. The un-named woman in our story, a recipient of God’s grace for her sins has come to express her deep gratitude to Jesus. Seeing that the dinner host, Simon has not offered or provided the customary washings for Jesus, she steps forward and acts. I do not thing I have ever heard a sermon preached that did not identify her as a prostitute. In Jewish society she was a sinner. Yet she acts, “She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.” (Luke 7:38). Why does she act? Are her tears, tears of repentance? Yes, perhaps so, but what if her tears are tears of sorrow because of the injustice shown to Christ? What if, this woman, who has lived the life of an outcast, understands far more than those seated at the table? What if she is angry and frustrated at her own powerlessness to do something about it?[1] She steps forward and comes behind Jesus. Since he is seated at the table she cannot anoint his hands with the ointment she has brought, but she can touch his feet.

In the gospel texts there are many times when Matthew, Mark, Luke and John record Jesus reaching out to touch an “untouchable,” but this time it is the woman who reaches out to touch Jesus.

Jesus permits this woman to touch him.

At considerable risk – this one who is known as a sinner to Simon (and those present) – lets down her hair to dry the feet of Christ. She had no towel, she could have gathered her robe/dress about her and used it to dry his feet. But she lets down her hair. In traditional Middle Eastern society a bride on her wedding night lets her hair down for her husband to see. This woman has demonstrated – and everyone present gets this – the ultimate pledge of loyalty to Christ.[2] Jesus still has not said anything to her, but he knows and he is aware.

The host doesn’t say much, but he thinks it—“Now, when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “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.” (vs. 39). It’s easy to be hard on Simon, but I know there have been times when I too have judged another too quickly or made assumptions as to why someone is in the situation they are in. That doesn’t excuse Simon either. Nor me.

Instead Jesus engages Simon by asking him and then sharing with him a story. It is a story that reveals to Simon and those present, which they are and where they fit in the story. Have they been forgiven little and therefore love only a little, or do they identify as one who is in need of much forgiveness and therefore love much? It is a dialogue in which Simon judges rightly.

“Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks. Her presence, her identity – both past, present and the future is brought forward. Jesus does not ask Simon to see as if he has a choice. He is asking – rather he is making certain that Simon see this woman. She too, bears the image of God. Who she has been is not definitive of who she is now or will be. The parable is about Simon and this woman. What will Simon do? Will he enter into the story and see himself. Will we?

Perhaps you too have heard sermons in which the focus is on this woman’s sins being forgiven as in the present moment. But verse 47 reveals her sins had previously been forgiven, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.” Her actions were out of love because she has been forgiven. Throughout the entire passage this woman does not speak. She does not utter words of faith, she does not ask for forgiveness, she does not say thank you. Yet her actions convey to all her allegiance and devotion. Think for a moment the risk of her actions.

Jesus finally speaks to her… he does not say thank you. He says to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” She knew she was forgiven, but to hear the words and for those present to hear his words, carried with them the weight of authority. She is restored into the community and welcomed into the Kingdom community.

As I have been reading and studying this passage I realize that woman in places of leadership or attempting to follow Christ into places of leadership in evangelical churches are often called upon to enter into the suffering of Christ. Perhaps in similar ways to the woman who wept at Jesus feet. I do not know that I have words that can adequately express what that means. But those of us that have will know what I am talking about.

I also know that when I do not bring my hurt to Christ that I can become like Simon, judging.

And I am learning that faith is not always verbalized. The woman’s faith is faith that is required of us in our journey of following Christ: intellectual assent, a daily walk of trust, and a response in obedience. [3] May we as women (this applies to men as well) recognize that our obedience to Christ will take us into identifying with His suffering – we will be challenged and it will be costly. We need one another on this journey. And we need the indwelling presence of the Spirit.

Resource: Kenneth E. Bailey, retired professor of Middle Eastern New Testament studies spent forty years living and teaching in the Middle East. His book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels is the book I resourced for these two reflections.

[1] Ibid, p. 246

[2] Ibid, p. 249

[3] Ibid, p. 258

  1. carmen permalink
    March 9, 2009 8:52 pm

    I like that Jesus spoke to her and maybe it was something she needed to hear. I think I long to know that I am forgiven and when I am quiet…He speaks. Thank you mom, for your devotion to what God has placed in your heart.

    • pathwayjourneys permalink*
      March 10, 2009 11:51 am

      The more I reflect on this passage the more I realize there is for us to hear. Living as this woman did, almost in the shadows (in a way), Jesus by speaking to her, affirming her, extended worth to her. Sometimes we think that we have to be quiet — and everything around us has to be quiet, but the quiet I think you might be experiencing is a quiet heart that hears. I think fixing our eyes on Jesus — as learning as we do — quiets our hearts. Bless you my daughter.

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