Acknowledging Universalis Commentary for Gospel of Thursday Week 24 Ordinary Time
This is a story of devotion and repentance, but a story also of the welcome of Jesus. A story of the unconditional love of God, embodied in Jesus, the incarnation of the Divine Covenant made by God with us.
One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to a meal. When he arrived at the Pharisee’s house and took his place at table, a woman came in, who had a bad name in the town. She had heard he was dining with the Pharisee and had brought with her an alabaster jar of ointment. She waited behind him at his feet, weeping, and her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them away with her hair; then she covered his feet with kisses and anointed them with the ointment.Luke 7:36-50. Gospel for Thursday of Week 24 in Ordinary Time
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who this woman is that is touching him and what a bad name she has.’ Then Jesus took him up and said, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Speak, Master’ was the reply. ‘There was once a creditor who had two men in his debt; one owed him five hundred denarii, the other fifty. They were unable to pay, so he pardoned them both. Which of them will love him more?’ ‘The one who was pardoned more, I suppose’ answered Simon. Jesus said, ‘You are right.’
Then he turned to the woman. ‘Simon,’ he said ‘you see this woman? I came into your house, and you poured no water over my feet, but she has poured out her tears over my feet and wiped them away with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she has been covering my feet with kisses ever since I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. For this reason I tell you that her sins, her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love. It is the man who is forgiven little who shows little love.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Those who were with him at table began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this man, that he even forgives sins?’ But he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
Jesus does not rebuke the sinner or interrogate her. He sets no pre-conditions, demands no promise of improvement. The details of her sin are unimportant to him; the heartfelt repentance is all that matters. Luke tells many stories of the return of sinners: the Prodigal Son, the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector at Prayer, Zacchaeus, the Good Thief. Matthew’s story of Joy at the Man’s Found Sheep is accompanied in Luke with the story of Joy at the Woman’s Found Coin (typically adding woman to man).
In contrast to all this stands the host at the dinner-party, Simon the Pharisee, not evil, but a stickler for observance of the Law, and judgemental of others. However, Jesus is delicate even to Simon, giving him a question he can answer, so that Jesus can affirm him before he points out his shortcomings.
We remember this story alongside the story in John 8.1-11 of the woman caught in adultery. He stands with her in an act that reveals the extent to which God goes down to be with us in a non-judgmental and liberating way. Even risking being stoned himself along with her. Are they stories about the same woman on different occasions? Maybe today’s story is when she came back to express her gratitude. The joining of the two stories strengthens our appreciation of Jesus’ welcome to sinners.
Why did the woman at Simon’s house have a bad name? For Jesus this is not the issue. He comes to reveals the Father’s love; not to condemn. The women’s faith is revealed not in creeds or confessions. Her love, her great love is her testimony to faith. I was told once by a professor of spirituality, that the word “believe” in English has roots in Germanic from the concepts of “beloved”.
The one who believes is be-loved.