One could get the impression from the opening lines of the story about Jesus eating with and at the home of the Pharisee named Simon (Luke 7: 36 – 50) that this was going to be just a pleasant dinner party, a break from the sparring that kept the Pharisees and Jesus apart yet persistently and contentiously together.
“How nice,” Jesus must have thought, “that, despite our constant arguing and trying to outwit each other, this chap has the grace to be hospitable, to signal – by seating me at his own table – that I am his equal, maybe even to treat me, in spite our differences, as a colleague.”
It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption, since both Jesus and the Pharisees were intent on restoring a straying Israel back to its true calling, albeit by different means.
Jesus may have had fleeting second thoughts about this favorable evaluation of his host when he briefly realized that his own feet remained unwashed, un-dried, and un-anointed. But that customary hospitality could be overlooked given the other signs of welcome.
It took an uninvited guest to disrupt the spirit of good will that had, up to this point, characterized the evening.
Nothing that she said, mind you. In fact, not a word is recorded as coming from her lips.
But everything that she did.
This uninvited woman from the city – clearly a “sinner” – had learned that Jesus was dining with Simon that evening, so she broke protocol and entered the dining area, went to Jesus, bathed his feet with her tears, dried his feet with her hair, kissed his feet with her lips, and anointed his feet with the expensive jar of alabaster ointment she had brought with her – and all the time weeping.
Rather than seeing these actions by the sinful woman as an indictment of himself for what he had overlooked doing according to custom as a host, Simon the Pharisee, under his breath, condemned the woman for her sinful condition (and probably her intruding indiscretion) and questioned Jesus’ credentials as a prophet for not recognizing the sinful condition of the woman who had interrupted the dinner party.
Jesus could perceive exactly what was going on in his host’s head and indicated that he (Jesus) had something to say to Simon. When the host indicated he was ready to listen, Jesus told a story about two people who owed money to the same creditor but in different amounts. When the creditor realized that neither borrower could pay their debt, the creditor cancelled the debts of both. Jesus’ question to host Simon was which of the debtors would love the creditor more, and the host correctly responded that it would be the creditor with the larger debt that had been forgiven.
Pointing to the sinful woman, Jesus reminded the host that it was the uninvited and sinful woman who showed respect and love for Jesus by washing and drying and kissing and anointing his feet while all the time weeping – showing, that is, the depth and extent and fervor of her respect and love and gratitude for what Jesus had done to receive her and, in that sense, to forgive her –while the host had, yes, shown a degree respect and love and possibly even gratitude toward Jesus by inviting him to dinner, but had not, at the same time, expressed any deep sorrow for what he had failed to do as a host. Moreover, by condemning the woman and questioning Jesus’ credentials as a prophet – even silently – the host had placed himself above both the woman and Jesus and thereby showed his diminished love for them.
Jesus tells his host: “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” (v. 47)
In other words: to recognize the full extent and depth of one’s sins allows for those sins to be forgiven and, in turn, the renewed capacity to love freely and abundantly; to recognize only partially the extent and depth of one’s sins allows for only partial forgiveness and, in turn, the capacity to love little.
What then began as a pleasant dinner party, ended up anything but pleasant, for Jesus had, in effect, condemned his host for not weeping – for not recognizing the extent and depth of his sins, for not realizing how desperately he needed forgiveness, and, thus, for his continuing incapacity to love fully.
By not being able to weep, that is, Simon the host has not fulfilled the Great Commandment to love God completely and to love others as himself – a devastating condemnation.
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Our question, of course, is whether we are weeping – weeping tears of sorrow for acts of commission and omission we have committed or weeping tears of joy for the cancelled debts and forgiven sins and the freedom again to love God fully and one another – inclusively – as we love ourselves.
Some of those sins might be similar to those of the weeping woman who came to Jesus during the meal and some might be similar to those of the non-weeping man who hosted the meal so incompletely. But surely there are plenty of other sins, ancient and contemporary, that could be added. Are we or aren’t we weeping tears of sorrow and joy for them all?
It does seem to me, however, that there are a whole set of sins that might apply to many of us as Christian Americans – followers of Jesus, supposedly forgiven and freed – who have the capacity as citizens in this democracy to be involved socially, economically, and politically in processes that can make enormous differences in the lives of individuals and families, institutions and communities, states and nations, as well as the natural world.
Have we used those capacities that are ours as Christians in this democracy? Have we been concerned about and active in efforts to end the siege of Gaza, to stop the loss of life in Afghanistan, to press for a rigorous national energy policy, to reduce the growing inequality between the very wealthy and everyone else and address the needs of the poor and vulnerable, to bring fiscal integrity and fair taxation to our state governments, to adopt comprehensive immigration and education reforms, to bring a renewed sense of restorative justice to our so-called criminal justice system?
Are we weeping tears of sorrow, in confession, for the sins of what we have or haven’t done on all these fronts and tears of joy, in affirmation and gratitude, for the forgiveness and the freedom and the power we have, in Christ and as citizens of this democracy, to join with God in transformation of the small and large worlds of which we are a part?
At both the personal/private and the public/political dimensions of our lives, are you and I weeping?