February 20, 2022
SCRIPTURE READING: Luke 7:36-50
What does a person do when your love for another human being is SO BIG that there are no words for it and no gifts that would ever come close to conveying the size of it?
All the love songs are either too sappy or are too inept at reaching to the depths of what you feel. And…you have the sense that nobody has ever written a poem or painted a picture who understood the kind of love that you feel!
What do you do when the love that you feel for this person is galaxies away from love that you have ever felt for another – not just in quantity but in its very definition and composition. This love is in a category of its own. And… it is so big that it cannot be contained. What do you do?
What do you do when that love has not just stirred your heart, but it has changed your life? How can you say thanks?
It must have been how that “sinful woman” (most likely a prostitute) felt that day when she decided to try to say thanks to Jesus in the best way she knew. On her way out the door, she grabbed the Alabaster Stone jar containing an expensive perfume (which may well have been the brand she had used before in her line of work – the oldest profession in the world)! But this time, she wasn’t out to attract a customer, but to say thanks to a man who had changed her life.
She had apparently heard where Jesus was dining at Simon the Pharisee’s house. The house was open to the outdoors so it wasn’t a totally private affair, And, the tables were low things so guests reclined around them. The roads were dirty and dusty, littered with debris and the waste of a town. So, a considerate host would have greeted guests with a kiss, washed their feet or provided for it – and then anointed them with scented oil to cut the aroma. No such courtesies were afforded Jesus by the Pharisee, Simon. The whole invitation was probably not to honor the guest, but more likely to catch him in some rule violation.
All of this escaped the woman’s awareness. She was bent on one thing only – some way to express this love that is so big inside me!
She arrived at the home and the feelings nearly overwhelmed her. Never mind the others at the table and their judging eyes! Never mind protocol or rules of polite company! She stood there at his feet remembering his kindness and her own unworthiness. The tears just welled up uncontrollably, coursing down her cheeks, falling on his feet, What else to do? She wiped them with her hair and before she stood up again, she kissed his feet! And then the perfume- once a symbol of her profession, now a token of great love – she impulsively poured it on his feet!
It was an outrageous act, extravagant and sensual. The aroma filled the room! All the eyes in the room watched without any attempt to hold back the scandal of it all! The judgment was palpable! But for her, there were only two sets of eyes: Her own and the gentle, compassionate eyes of Jesus.
You see, something happened there! There was a transfer that often goes unnoticed in this story. The shame that she felt from years of doling out and receiving fake love – that shame was lifted and shifted to the judging, critical and upstanding citizens in the room. She was set free!
There was the whispering – the unkindness and cruelty of those who believe they can cut someone else down to size and in the process raise themselves up in comparison.
And Jesus said to his host: “Simon, I have something to tell you!” And he told him a story of two men indebted to a banker. One’s debt was very large and another small. The banker forgave both. “Which of the two would be more grateful?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.” Then Jesus said something quite profound: “Do you see this woman?” I mean, do you really SEE her?
“She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.” Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.”
Now I don’t know how you come to this story. It’s likely that many of us come like the woman. We’ve come feeling little and unworthy. Somehow and somewhere we came in contact with the one whose eyes were totally empty of judgment and filled with understanding and compassion – and whose lips said: “I forgive you!” Our lives were changed and we were set free!
All of us, I suppose, have been like the rest of the guests around the table that day. Also broken in our own way, but unable to admit it. And so our hearts have been hardened by bitterness, judgment, and criticism. We say it all with our eyes. We come to the table harsh and cold and unfeeling and we leave the table the very same way.
And, Oh, Yes! there is a third option, isn’t there? We can join Jesus as ones who replace the judgment with compassion and who, with that very spirit of Jesus within us, set others free – even, and especially, those who do not deserve it! By what we do and say and by the spirit of unending love of the Creator we say: “Your sins are forgiven you!”
Always, that third option is open to us. We just have to trade places around the table, and slip in next to Jesus, and spend more time in adoration and less on judgment!