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 towards 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.’
It’s interesting that, although the heading of this passage is “Simon the Pharisee”, we don’t know his name until Jesus uses it. Yet Luke uses the word Pharisee four times before we find out his name is Simon.
We automatically react to the name Pharisee as an enemy of Jesus, though all of them weren’t. We don’t know Simon’s motive in inviting Jesus to his house for a meal: was he someone who might think he has found a leader, perhaps the Messiah? was he truly interested in hearing Jesus’ ideas? or did he want to show the new wonder boy to his friends and possibly demolish him with clever argument? We don’t know, but later on the way his behaviour is compared with the unknown woman’s we get some idea.
He is appalled by her over- the- top treatment- weeping and washing and drying Jesus’ feet with her hair and perfuming them with oil from an alabaster jar ( no expense spared here). He is surprised that Jesus doesn’t recognise her for the sort she was. But of course Jesus does recognise her for what she is and what Simon is too though he didn’t speak his thoughts aloud to Jesus.
Simon grudgingly answers one of Jesus’ clever questions, the sort that make you realise you have just judged yourself. Then Jesus really lets Simon see himself. He did none of the things a host does for an honoured guest. In a dusty land where washed feet are a pleasure, this is almost a basic obligation of hospitality. The kiss bestows honour and the perfumed oil shows you are really welcome. Simon has merely invited Jesus to eat, possibly with the idea of his earning his supper with informed debate. Perhaps Jesus was also an unknown quantity so let’s not waste too much on him.
The woman has no such inhibitions; she does what she feels, even though if we were there, we would probably feel embarrassed by her too.
Jesus isn’t embarrassed, which is probably good news for us. We all know what it feels like when a child does something really embarrassing and we try to apologise for them. Jesus doesn’t apologise for the woman- he knows what she means, how full her heart is with love and thankfulness and the relief knowing she is forgiven.
Simon begins the evening dismissing Jesus as a prophet as he doesn’t recognise the “type”. What must he have felt like to discover Jesus was not just a prophet, but was behaving as if he were God, forgiving sins.
I doubt Jesus was invited back!
You know how much we have in common with Simon.
We judge people by our own standards
And can’t believe that they are as worthy as us to belong to the Kingdom.
Open our eyes to see others as Jesus sees them
With love, compassion and humility
Chris Eddowes is a Lay Preacher in the Northern Synod and a member of St. George’s URC in Hartlepool.