If Jesus disciples and the religious community of his day were scandalised by his spending time with a multiple divorcee from a despised community and one who now lived in open adultery with her lover [see previous post] – their shock must have been tame compared to what was yet to come!
On the occasion Jesus found himself in the home of a respected religious leader where he is treated with far less courtesy than was common in their culture. He has been invited for a meal. Present in the room is a woman, who it appears saw the great disrespect shown to Jesus. She is deeply hurt by the behaviour of the host and his guests towards the one who so recently had transformed her life and won her heart. However all propriety demanded that she keep silent. Luke tells the story in in Chapter 7 of his gospel. Perhaps you might want to read it if you are not familiar with it.
This is one of these stories that I think most of us can see very clearly in our mind’s eye – and indeed that is the genius of the storyteller.
There is no doubt that the story contrasts the response of two people to Jesus – one a man, a very religious man and the other a woman – a very sinful woman.
Simon is a privileged, indeed an entitled member of the religious élite of Jesus day. He observed the Law of Moses to the letter and is in debt to no one. He is also wealthy and can throw large parties for the rich and famous. He is a man – in every way – highly regarded in his community. In stark contrast the woman has no sense of entitlement – she is deeply indebted – she has no sense of superiority – she indeed is a lawbreaker of the worst kind – an immoral woman – a terrible “sinner” in Simon’s estimation. Most theologians would identify the unnamed woman in this story as Mary Magdalene and suggest she was indeed a prostitute – although this is not specifically stated. Whatever the case may be – she is certainly identified as a sinner – in stark contrast to the righteous Simon.
Although on the face of it Simon is giving to Jesus – as in providing a meal – his giving is for the wrong reasons for in truth he invited to judge. It is possible to be a giving person for the wrong reason? Apparently so. The woman on the other hand has no right to be there – but she has come to give – and give for the right reason. As a result she will also truly receive!
But the real scandal of the story is the behaviour of the woman. I see in my mind a woman, having entered uninvited, standing in the shadows observing the scene – perhaps waiting to hear Jesus speak or teach. But as we have said – her heart is broken by the disrespect and attitudes of those around him.
We know of course that the manner of eating in Jesus culture was different to ours – for they sat on the floor at a low table with their legs stretched out behind them. The feet of Jesus are still dirty with dust from the journey. Normally the host would ensure that the feet of his guests were washed before the meal – but this did not happen – in itself a mark of disrespect – but overlooked by Jesus.
At some point during the meal we observe the woman walk behind Jesus feet where she kneels down – weeping. I see her tears mingling with the dust and creating little rivulets flowing down Jesus ankles and feet. Oblivious to the stares of the men at the table she loosens her hair [another shameless – shocking act in her culture – an act reserved exclusively for a husband] and dries his tearstained dusty feet and begins to kiss them. In the Greek language the original thought conveyed is that she “smothers” his feet with kisses. This is truly shocking behaviour – the kind of behaviour that would be sure to get you hauled out of any church service!
Of course both the woman and Jesus are judged negatively by Simon the Pharisee. But the simple truth is this – the woman was in the right and the man – the religious man was wrong. The ultimate question is then – not have I got it all together as far as my theology is concerned – not am I right in the eyes of the religious establishment around me – not do I understand it all – simply this – have I wept with gratitude at his feet?
The drift of the story needs to be noted. Jesus says to Simon – “I tell you, her sins— and they are many — have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” I once thought that it was because of her love she was forgiven – but that is obviously not the case, She loves much in the light of the fact that she has been forgiven much! It is in experiencing forgiveness she knows how to love! It is not until we know we need grace – we need mercy – we need forgiveness that we come to the humble place of receiving unconditionally! And from there we begin to love.
Many of us live in a culture that is not used to emotion in our religion – but I think we need to be careful – for freed people – like uninhibited children can sometimes disturb our equilibrium – as this woman did!
Once again in this story we see Jesus raising a despised and demonised woman – a notorious “sinner” from the dust and mire of a broken and shackled existence – to a place of salvation, value and commendation. Conversely the religious man stands condemned. I think many in Jesus culture would have liked to see these roles reversed – perhaps some in ours would do likewise! But once again – the broken feminine – the abused feminine, the corrupted feminine is restored to her true place in Christ – a place of value, a place of love, a place of fulfilment. But there is more. If this lady is indeed Mary Magdalene [which seems extremely likely] she also became the first person met by the risen Jesus – the first one to hear his voice – and the first to tell others of the resurrection! Weeping at the feet of Jesus is indeed the prelude to great things!