After the son of the widow of Nain was raised from the dead the people’s response was: “A great prophet has arisen in our midst.,” and “God has visited his people.”The pharisee in this passage now states, “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.” These two examples present the acceptance and rejection of Jesus.
In Luke’s structuring of this story, interpreters detect Greek literary influence.In technical language, Luke “has set the tradition within the framework of a Hellenistic symposium genre.”The players are: the host, the chief guest and other guests (one of whom is not invited, the woman with the alabaster flask of ointment).Until recently there has been a tendency to identify this woman with the woman in Matthew’s Gospel who anoints Jesus at Bethany (Mt. 26:6-13) orMary Magdalene or Martha of the sisters Mary and Martha.Most probably she is none of these women. Luke the story teller says that “…there was a sinful woman in city who learned that he (Jesus) was at table in the house of the Pharisee.”The Pharisee who had invited Jesus identifies the woman as a sinner.In the New Interpreters Bible commentary this section is titled: “Responses of a Pharisee and a Harlot.”But there is no convincing evidence that the woman is a prostitute.
This woman lavishes attention on Jesus.Her generosity is contrasted with the stinginess of Jesus’ host.The question arises: did the woman love because she had been forgiven, or was she forgiven because she loved Jesus.In other words which came first, her love or her forgiveness?Interpreters give a variety of reasons to say that she was first forgiven.The woman’s preparations in bringing the alabaster flask suggest that she has experienced acceptance and forgiveness prior to this event.It would seem that when Jesus finally directly speaks to the woman he is reiterating “Your sins are forgiven.”His final powerful words to the woman are: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
This story is also a powerful commentary on self righteousness as a particular obstacle.The Pharisee, because he did not recognize his need for forgiveness received less.“But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
After Simon has witnessed the woman’s actions, he says 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.”Since the Pharisees were so concerned about externals it was the “touching” by the unclean sinner woman that captured his attention.Jesus simply asks him: “Do you see this woman?”Simon had his own preconceived ideas about the woman and all he could see was Jesus being touched by an unclean woman. Our own preconceived ideas can also blind us to the reality of another person.
Jose A. Pagola’s meditations on the Sunday Gospels is titled “Following in the Footsteps of Jesus.” He says of the Gospel passage for this Sunday: “All the Gospels highlight the way Jesus accepted and understood the people generally excluded by everyone from God’s blessing: prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers. His message caused offense: those despised by the most religious people have a privileged place in the heart of God. There is only one reason for this: they are the ones who stand most in need of acceptance, dignity and love. The day is approaching when we in Christian communities will have to rethink our attitude towards certain groups in light of how Jesus dealt with them…” More than once I have thought, Pope Francis must have read the reflections of Pagola. His remark “who am I to judge?” shows a rethinking of an attitude toward one group. What other groups must prompt us to rethink our attitudes in light of “following in the footsteps of Jesus”?
We are called to search for ourselves in this story.Can we see something of ourselves in the Pharisee Simon?If not, we may be in the same condition of self righteousness which prevented him for truly seeing and receiving forgiveness and growing in love.
Can we recall in our life when forgiveness increased our capacity to love and be loved?When have we experienced the kind of explosion of generosity that we see an example of in the actions of this woman?Do we need to prepare an alabaster flask to lavish our love on someone?
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