Luke 7:36 – 8:3
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 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. 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.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to 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 her hair. 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. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
There is a saying that goes, “We seldom see things the way they are, rather we see things the way we are”
Our contexts, our cultures, our histories with certain people groups, our preferences, are all filters which determine what we see when we see something or someone. Living as I do in South Africa, where labelling and prejudice was a way of life, I am deeply aware of my tendency to label and judge at every opportunity. In the heydays of Liberation Theology and Orthopraxis, we were taught to “See, Judge, Act“. Now that may be good for revolutionaries, but I am not sure that it cultivates a contemplative attitude to the world and people. These days I much prefer Lama Surya Das’ mantra, “See it, Know it, Watch it go“. There seems less of the judging labelling mind in this second approach. Am I getting lazy?
With that as my background you will understand why, when I read of this classic encounter at Simon the Pharisee’s dinner party, I notice the way people are seeing, judging and acting.
Simon the Pharisee, is focussed on the externals. “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.” His focus on externals prevents him from meeting the person behind his label.
The anonymous woman, is focussed on her deep need for unconditional acceptance. “She stood behind him at his feet,
weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair” Her need overwhelms her awareness of propriety and place.
Jesus with the wealth of wisdom coming from a contemplatively integrated heart, sees both and his response to Simon and the woman is absolutely need specific and thus appropriate to each individual.
I would like to cultivate seeing the way that Jesus sees.
- Seeing the need not the label
- Responding with compassion and not prejudice
- Putting care above convention
- Being able to hold opposing energies in one room and minister to people on each side. (Simon and the Woman)
The gospel reading ends with a list of interesting woman who followed Jesus on the way. Looking deeply at this encounter in Simon’s house, I can understand why they did.