2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13
Galatians 2:16, 19-21
Luke 7:36-8:3 or 7:36-50
In today’s Gospel reading (Luke 7:36-8:3), we see Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee, and something quite remarkable happens when Jesus reclines at table. An uninvited person, a "sinful woman," comes in, weeping, and actually washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints them with some ointment that she brought. Simon is unimpressed at such a display. He knows her to be a sinful woman, and can’t figure out why Jesus doesn’t know who or what she is.
Jesus, knowing what Simon is thinking, offers a brief parable about two people whose debts were forgiven by the same person. Jesus asks what might be seen as a strange question: "Which of them [the debtors] will love him [the creditor] more?" Who loves their creditors at any time? Not anyone that I know. But Simon answers the question, "The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven." After affirming the answer, Jesus contrasts the woman’s behavior with Simon’s toward Him. While Simon’s generosity was minimal or nondescript, the woman was extravagant in her care. And then Jesus makes a connection between love and forgiveness: "So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." And then Jesus says to the woman, "Your sins are forgiven." And while the other guests are thinking about that, Jesus tells the woman to go in peace.
A good way to understand what Jesus says is to see the woman’s outpouring of love not so much as a cause of her forgiveness, but as a result of it. Somehow she was touched by her encounter with Jesus, and aware of His love for her, she responded with an expression of love which to some may have seemed over the top, but to others might have been deeply touching.
We may not be able to relate to the woman. We may not be in a situation where we would describe ourselves as having "many sins" to be forgiven. On the other hand, we cannot be like Simon, who apparently saw no need to be forgiven. Instead of navigating a "middle way," (which is what I usually tend to do), perhaps we are called to make a choice between the woman’s response and that of Simon. After all, whatever Jesus did for the woman here happened sometime before He turns His face toward Jerusalem to enter into His Passion, death, and Resurrection for our salvation. We don’t have to be terrible sinners to be overcome by such an outpouring of love for us!
Have we become so used to the story of our salvation that it doesn’t move us? There is a Shirley Caesar song (I can’t remember the title) about a man who was considered to be too out of control for a congregation because he was so caught up in Jesus, and how he explained to them what he was doing. I’m not saying that we have to be very emotional when we’re not that kind of person, but if we were in touch with what Jesus did for us, it would have to call for some response. For the woman in the Gospel, she gave of herself in a much different way than that of being a prostitute (if indeed that was what she was). We, too, are called to give of ourselves, for the only way we can express our love for Jesus is to show love to others and to the whole world whom Jesus loves. Might we risk being extravagant in our love? By this I mean, might we risk going beyond what is comfortable in sharing the love of Christ? That might not be so outlandish, if we, like the woman, were filled with the reality of Jesus’ love for us. As St. Paul says in our second reading from Galatians (2:16, 19-21): "I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and has given himself up for me." A life in Christ is a life of giving.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is the director of St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.