Monday, June 17, 2013

Ordinary Time - The Scent of Forgiveness

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 canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled 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.” (Luke 7:36-50)

Simon the Pharisee doesn’t appear to have just a friendly interest in Jesus. He’s a bit suspicious about him, and his concerns crystalize when the scandalous woman shows up invited.

Wealthier citizens in that time would keep their homes open—at least the outside patios—so that people could drop in and pay their respects, get counsel, or beg for alms. Simon probably didn’t expect that a prostitute would show up. A whore would be the worst of the unclean sinners (right along with lepers), and someone as respectable and religiously correct as Simon wouldn’t want any of her sin to get on him (ritually or literally).

But Simon feels that it’s acceptable for him to be in the company of Jesus. Jesus might be a spurious prophet, but he’s a religious type, and Simon has a responsibility to make sure that newcomers to the work of religion get vetted.

It appears that the woman also feels that it’s acceptable for her to be with Jesus, but for different reasons. Somewhere along the way she has come to understand something deep about him, something that has changed her life. She has no need to approve or vet him. She has come to love him, as she has been loved.

Simon, of course, is scandalized that Jesus allows the woman to even come near him. Jesus might have scandalized Simon even further by not only affirming her devotion over that of the Pharisee’s, but also by declaring their common need for forgiveness. The idea that he would share such common ground with a prostitute must have troubled Simon. I wonder what he thought of Jesus’ prophetic powers when he heard that.

Jesus would eventually go on his way, his stomach satisfied, but the details of the meal forgotten. But he would not be able to forget the woman any time soon. The ointment that she poured on his feet—a perfume that was very likely a tool of her trade, a scent that she had been using to allure men to her bed—would stay with Jesus for quite some time. The aroma of forgiveness would emanate from him, maybe even to the moment of his death.

Simon didn’t want the woman’s sin anywhere near him. Jesus carried the woman’s touch to the cross.

Jesus—Friend of Sinners.

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