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.’
Reflection Sometimes we get it wrong. Those of us in the Church often bind ourselves in with rules and processes and procedures, and the more tightly we define our “in group”, the harder it is for those who most need to be in Church to actually get in.
We see it in our “very friendly church that’s like a family,” which is then experienced by the newcomer as cliquey (do remember not just to talk to your friends on Sunday morning – make an effort to find someone you don’t yet know well!)
We see it in complex rules and culture that is impenetrable to those trying to join us (why do we stand at that point and sit at the next; why do we expect people to know we sing Amen three times at the end of some hymns, and to which music?)
We see it in unspoken attitudes – here’s a person of different ethnicity, a single parent, a parent with a child who makes a noise in church, a person with a different gender identity: they are not like us…!
Don’t get me wrong: good church order is essential, and culture (“the way we do things around here”) is inescapable. But are we open to learning from the Other, to welcome them into our circle and embrace them, and maybe even learn from them?
The Pharisee could only see the woman’s sinfulness and was blind to the plank in his own eye. Jesus showed him there was more to it: she knew how much she needed Jesus and how great the forgiveness he offered; the Pharisee thought he was already right with God.
Whose opinion and approach mattered most? That of the Pharisee or the forgiven woman? How shall we respond to the great love of God in Christ Jesus?
Prayer God of mercy, Forgive us when we shut You out of our lives and when we build barriers to keep others away from You. Help us to remember that we are in no place to judge, for we too rely wholly on Your grace. Amen.
The Revd Steve Faber is Moderator of the West Midlands Synod