Once, just once, I’d like to see a version of the Bible that tells this story with Jesus focusing not on her many sins but on Simon’s and saying: “You do realize, of course, that she turned to prostitution because you failed to adequately remember the poor and destitute, that you and your patriarchal society made her who she is, that she had no other way to feed her children or herself, so get down off your high horse and offer her something to eat.”
But the woman very generously wasn’t laying blame where blame was due, and perhaps Jesus thought a cultural discourse was beyond Simon’s ken. Either way, he chose to focus on the personal forgiveness of sins, not on the significant institutional inadequacies that continue to this day. So I will, too.
Taking another uncomfortable tack at this…did anyone try the exercise of reading this scripture passage from the perspective of the woman? We can read this passage intellectually, or hear it in church, or we can immerse ourselves in it by taking on one of the characters: Simon, Jesus, the other men at the table (who perhaps knew the woman a little too well…wouldn’t that be interesting…but I digress), or the unnamed woman.
If you take the outsider’s perspective, all you can think is OMG what a SPECTACLE she made of herself! Holy cats, she walks into this guy’s house and starts CRYING on JESUS! She gets down on the floor and rubs her HAIR all over his FEET. Then she KISSES them.
What an incredibly intimate thing to do.
We don’t like to think of Jesus and intimate in the same sentence, but once you start to go beyond thinking about this story and enter into it, there aren’t many other good words to describe what happens. It’s intimate. It’s intimate when people cry. It’s intimate when they touch each other. She’s doing both. Something about her encounter with Jesus inspired her to do this, and while he certainly and justifiably rebukes the prig Simon, Jesus notably does NOT rebuke the woman. He doesn’t shy away from this intimacy.
Good thing for us. I can’t speak for anyone else, but right now about ninety percent of my prayer life is actually psyching myself up to open an honest, intimate conversation with God. Ninety percent of my prayer life goes something like this:
Me: Okay, God, I’m here.
Me: Hey – I’m fine. Things are great. No worries. Just humming along, incredibly busy, but that’s how it goes. How are you? I mean it. How are you? (This is a tactic I frequently use to get people not to ask me questions – I focus on them. If you’re curious, it doesn’t seem to work well on God.)
Me: silence (because I can do that, too, but God’s better at it than I am.)
Eventually the truth comes spilling out. It might take days or weeks, but the truth comes out.
I can pretty effectively gauge the quality of my prayer life by how much I find to say. If I’m quiet, it’s not because things are good. It’s because things are spinning out of control and I don’t want God to know what a train wreck I am at the moment. Because…I’d look bad. You know. Like I don’t have it all together. And if I’m silent, I can fool God.
Anyone else laughing?
Whatever else we call this woman, whatever pejoratives we hang on her, she was honest with Jesus, honest enough for him to reward her faith (her honesty, perhaps where faith starts) with healing. It’s hard to have that level of forgiveness, no matter how big or small our sins, if we haven’t admitted them.
She commits an act of great humility, or yet another act of flouting the rules, or maybe both. And maybe that’s the secret to showing great love…being humble enough to admit that in our own way, we’ve missed the mark as badly as she did, if not worse. This isn’t about being forgiven, although that’s an important component of the story. It’s about the result: being able to love greatly. The slap my pride takes when I admit where I’ve missed the mark is worth the sting because the healing that admission brings enables me to love more.
So forget about whether or not your sins are big enough. Go deeper than well at least I’m not a prostitute! Try just admitting to them, letting God’s healing balm flow into your soul, then watch your love grow. Who knows? You might find yourself doing something to help the widows and orphans of the twenty-first century.