Trinity 3 2016   Year C Proper 6    Lk 7 : 36 -  8:3 

It is the kind of thing that isn’t supposed to happen! Jesus goes for a meal with Simon the respectable Pharisee. Next thing, in comes a woman who begins to bathe his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with ointment. Luke tells us she is a sinner and it is written all across Simon’s face: “ If this man were a prophet he would have known what kind of a woman this is who is touching him - that she is a sinner”. That she is  a sinner is the principal cause of offence. Mathew and Mark in their accounts of this incident do not mention this aspect but, rather, that it is the waste of the ointment which gives offence. It could instead have been sold and the money given to the poor.

The woman, whoever she was, performs a ritual act of devotion and worship, a beautiful thing, preparing the Lord for his burial, as Matthew and Mark have it. A Beautiful thing; an act of penitence and of love too. Simon’s doubt and cynicism are written all over his face.

The woman knows that she is a sinner in need of forgiveness and, since she cannot pay, the Lord cancels her debt.  “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 Jesus: “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.”

She loves God more because her debt is the greater; Simon the Pharisee no doubt thinks his debt is less and so loves less in return. This is evidenced in the first instance by his failure to provide the basic rituals of welcome and hospitality to Jesus. After all, he is pretty well righteous through his strict observance of the law, thank you very much. He doesn’t really stand in need of what Jesus has to offer him and so loves him  less than the woman who loves him the more because she knows her need…even before her debt has been cancelled.

There is an interesting relationship and interplay between forgivenesss, faith  and love. "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…Your faith has saved you; go in peace”. 

Love must  be closely involved in the woman’s act of devotion, worship and penitence. Love and faith in God must have motivated these actions; then comes the pronouncement of the Lord’s forgiveness (out of his great love for the sinner involved), which in turn engenders an even greater love on the part of the one forgiven. She loves Jesus, believes in him, she is forgiven and consequently loves even more. Faith in God, forgiveness by Him; his love for us and our love for him are all so intimately bound up with each other as to be inseparable. They are a golden sequence and there is a golden cord joining them together in perfect harmony. It is impossible to say which flows from which, except that when all is said and done the love of God always comes first, with ours as a response: we love because God first loved us.

I hope I will be more like the woman and less like Simon. May the Lord grant it to be so.

"Your  sins are forgiven…your faith has saved you; go in peace", says Jesus.

Paul sums this all up perfectly, I think, in his Letter to the Ephesians (Chp 2: 4 ff): 

“All of us once lived …in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”.

Philip Nichols CR