Gospel – Luke 7:36-50
A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him,
and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.
Now there was a sinful woman in the city
who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee.
Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment,
she stood behind him at his feet weeping
and began to bathe his feet with her tears.
Then she wiped them with her hair,
kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself,
“If this man were a prophet,
he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him,
that she is a sinner.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people were in debt to a certain creditor;
one owed five hundred day’s wages and the other owed fifty.
Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both.
Which of them will love him more?”
Simon said in reply,
“The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”
He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon,
“Do you see this woman?
When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet,
but she has bathed them with her tears
and wiped them with her hair.
You did not give me a kiss,
but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered.
You did not anoint my head with oil,
but she anointed my feet with ointment.
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.”
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The others at table said to themselves,
“Who is this who even forgives sins?”
But he said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Reflection on the Gospel
Let us remember we are in the holy presence of God.
The Law is not an end in itself—it is a set of guide posts and signs that lead us to something else, something greater. Ultimately the Old Testament Law was intended to be a framework from which authentic relationships could flourish—between peoples and between God and the individual. In the first reading for this Sunday King David, when confronted by the prophet Nathan with his sinfulness (adultery and murder), acknowledges the latter but not the former. St. Paul makes clear in his letter to the Galatians that obedience to the Law for the sake of the Law itself is spiritual death, while faith in Christ is life. Remembering that “faith” is confidence, trust in another (emeth) St. Paul’s theological position becomes clearer—the relationship of love that is offered to me by Christ fulfills and transcends the Law. To live the Law fully is to live a life of self-gift and self-surrender for another, and Jesus Christ fulfilled (and thus abrogated) the Law perfectly in his death on the Cross and Resurrection.
Jesus came to give comfort to the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable—that is an overarching truth the Gospel accounts of his life and teaching make clear. With this in mind St. Luke’s account of the encounter between Jesus, Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman shows the divergence between adherence to the Law and love for another human being. There is a lot that can be said about this passage—the idea that forgiving the greater debt is the greater gift; the lack of hospitality shown to Jesus in Simon not offering water for his guest to wash his feet (a custom in Jesus’ day); the presumption of judging both the Pharisee and the woman by appearances alone. But it seems to me that the core of this story lies in the recognition by the sinful woman (probably a prostitute) that through her life and actions the relationship between herself and God is estranged. There can be no doubt of her awareness that she stands condemned by the Law. But herein lies the catch—to all appearances she is a sinner and estranged from God while the Pharisee, by all appearances, is not. But the actions of both show how deceiving such rash judgments can really be.
The sinful woman, in faith, seeks to amend and renew the relationship with Jesus Christ. When he forgives the woman’s sins there is a recognition that Jesus has accepted her contrition and restitution. Her tears of sorrow have cleansed his feet, her kissing his feet in all humility seeks the human contact that only love can understand. The “others” at the table are indignant on two accounts. First, the sinful woman’s very actions show how genuine her relationship with God really is, and how shallow their relationship is. Second, when the “others” declare “Who is this who even forgives sins?” they are now casting their umbrage not only on the sinful woman but on Jesus as well! If the Law serves as guide posts and signs that leads to love, then the experts in the Law have failed to read the signs correctly while a sinful woman has not. In faith she has sought the one relationship that matters the most and fulfills the Law of Love. The “others” question about Jesus forgiving the woman’s sins is a legitimate question for any Jew as only God can forgive sin. But once again the Gospel story shocks us—the experts in the Law fail to see who Jesus really is while the sinful woman’s repentance and faith gives her a clarity of vision from the heart. Jesus is the Son of God in whom the relationship of love with God blooms when we read the signposts correctly!
Dr. Patrick Doering
Central Catholic HS – Pittsburgh, PA
Saint John Baptist de La Salle – Pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts – Forever.