Monday, 9 October 2023 I’m a Christian Despite…sexism
St Luke 7:36-50 Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!” Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.” “Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied. Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, cancelling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.
“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.” The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?” And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
You could compare this with Mark’s version at the start of chapter 14.
Who is this woman? Who have you been taught she is, as you have journeyed with faith and journeyed with the Church? Was she sinful? What then, were her sins?
Who do you say she is?
The reality is we simply don’t know.
Does it matter?
Jesus receives a moment of costly and challenging devotion.
Jesus challenges judgements and assumptions of what is right and proper, what might count as good spiritual practice. This woman defies convention, to do what counts in the moment and demonstrate love. Jesus affirms her.
It’s ironic then, that Church tradition has linked this story, this woman, with Mary Magdalene and Mary Magdalene to sin and prostitution, and discredited her.
Early Church writings describe Mary Magdalene as a disciple and Church leader, the ‘apostle to the Apostles’ , who ‘always walked with the Lord’ who ‘loved her more than the other disciples’. (Gospel of Philip 3), of whom Jesus said ‘your heart is directed to the kingdom of heaven more than all your brothers’ (Pistis Sophia 26:17-20).
‘Every variety of ancient Christianity that advocated the legitimacy of women’s leadership was eventually declared heretical and evidence of women’s early leadership roles was erased or suppressed.’ (Karen King, Professor of New Testament Studies & the History of Ancient Christianity, Harvard University – Frontline 1998)
There is no evidence this woman was a prostitute or that it was Mary Magdalene. I’m still a Christian despite the link made by male leaders and writers which served to diminish and discredit both the woman in this story and Mary Magdalene in her role as a key disciple and spiritual leader within the early Church.
It does matter.
The Church continues to struggle with the place of women and sex, and a widening LGBTQ+ community.
Is our lesson her devoted action? Or his wrong assumptions?
What is God saying to you today?
Living, Holy, Mother Father God, unbound by our conventions, not claiming power in authority and judgement, revealing it instead in costly love – forgive our need to draw the line, to silence your disquieting challenge, our assumption-blindness to your unexpected presence in our midst. Where love is offered despite the cost, where care is given despite the stare, where welcome is given despite the threat, You are present, in Spirit and in truth, Alleluia!
The Rev’d Helen Pope is a URC minister currently working as a teacher of pupils with complex needs in a secondary generic special school. She worships at Macclesfield URC.