GOSPEL READING: Luke 7:36-50
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house, and took his place at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment 39 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 sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “What is it, Teacher?” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
44 Then turning toward 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 wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Meditation: What fuels the love that surpasses all other loves? Unbounding gratitude for sure! No one who met Jesus could do so with indifference. They were either attracted to him or repelled by him. Why did a Pharisee invite Jesus to his house for dinner and then treat him discourteously by neglecting to give him the customary signs of respect and honor? [This account has some similarities to the account of Simon the leper in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3, as well as the account in John 12:1-8.] Simon was very likely a collector of celebrities. He patronized Jesus because of his popularity with the crowds. Why did he criticize Jesus’ compassionate treatment of a woman of ill repute – most likely a prostitute? The Pharisees shunned the company of public sinners and in so doing they neglected to give them the help they needed to find healing and wholeness.
The power of extravagant love and gratitude
Why did a woman with a bad reputation approach Jesus and anoint him with her tears and costly perfume at the risk of ridicule and abuse by others? The woman’s action was motivated by one thing, and one thing only, namely, her love for Jesus – she loved greatly out of gratitude for the kindness and forgiveness she had received from Jesus. She did something a Jewish woman would never do in public. She loosened her hair and anointed Jesus with her tears. It was customary for a woman on her wedding day to bind her hair. For a married woman to loosen her hair in public was a sign of grave immodesty. This woman was oblivious to all around her, except for Jesus.
Love gives all – the best we have
She also did something which only love can do. She took the most precious thing she had and spent it all on Jesus. Her love was not calculated but extravagant. In a spirit of humility and heart-felt repentance, she lavishly served the one who showed her the mercy and kindness of God. Jesus, in his customary fashion, never lost the opportunity to draw a lesson from such a deed.
The debt of gratitude for mercy and forgiveness
Why did Jesus put the parable of the two debtors before his learned host, a religious Jew who was well versed in the Jewish Scriptures and who would have rigorously followed the letter of the Law of Moses? This parable is similar to the parable of the unforgiving official (see Matthew 18:23-35) in which the man who was forgiven much showed himself merciless and unforgiving. Jesus makes clear that great love springs from a heart forgiven and cleansed. Peter the Apostle tells us that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). It was love that motivated the Father in heaven to send his only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus, to offer up his life on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. The woman’s lavish expression of love was an offering of gratitude for the great forgiveness, kindness, and mercy Jesus had shown to her.
The stark contrast of attitudes between Simon and the woman of ill-repute demonstrates how we can either accept or reject God’s mercy and forgiveness. Simon, who regarded himself as an upright Pharisee, did not feel any particular need for pardon and mercy. His self-sufficiency kept him from acknowledging his need for God’s grace – his gracious gift of favor, help, and mercy. Are you grateful for God’s mercy and pardon?
1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD“; then you forgave the guilt of my sin.
7 You are a hiding place for me, you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with deliverance.
11 Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: Jesus the Physician brings miraculous healing to the woman’s sins, by Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD)
“Healing the sick is a physician’s glory. Our Lord did this to increase the disgrace of the Pharisee, who discredited the glory of our Physician. He worked signs in the streets, worked even greater signs once he entered the Pharisee’s house than those that he had worked outside. In the streets, he healed sick bodies, but inside, he healed sick souls. Outside, he had given life to the death of Lazarus. Inside, he gave life to the death of the sinful woman. He restored the living soul to a dead body that it had left, and he drove off the deadly sin from a sinful woman in whom it dwelt. That blind Pharisee, for whom wonders were not enough, discredited the common things he saw because of the wondrous things he failed to see.” (excerpt from HOMILY ON OUR LORD 42.2)