You could be forgiven for thinking that there are things in the Gospel reading today that jar with us. Why does the Gospel target this woman’s sins, why her, why does it choose to focus in on this? In that brutal time in which Jesus lived there was plenty that could have been said about other’s sins – the violence all about, the jealousies between peoples, the lying, hatred. But it seems that it focuses on the woman sins. Are we hearing a bit of misogyny here, that the woman is singled out for a harsh word, no mention of the man’s faults who was part of the liason, no mention either if she was actually guilty of the offence that she was accused of or was it just the result of it just being suggested that was enough to condemn you, in that febral claustrophobic atmosphere.
This story in the Gospel jars in other ways too. It jars when it lists top level sinners and grade sins…top of their list so often are tax collectors and prostitutes, top of the lists of sins are sexual sins.
Its interesting that the later Christian church turns away from the finger pointing - St Paul’s theology is to simply say that all have sinned, he often avoids grading sins or listing them or naming sinners. The Gospel in contrast lists sins and grades sinners. We don’t know whether it is just mirroring the thinking of the day or whether it is agreeing with it. If agreeing with it, it seems to go against what Jesus says – hypocrite remove the plank from your eye rather than seeing the skelf in your neighbours
It reminds us that we have to be careful how we read the bible. It can give us a false sense of superiority. It can also, as it has in the past, be used to demonise people/sinners – women, the Jewish people, gay people, sick people, people who have misfortune calling them cursed, whipping up people against those who are seen to be superstitious. We are on safer ground with Paul when he simply says all have sinned, all needmercy, all need forgiveness. No need to dwell on the sins of people or to magnify them, no need to mention anyone or single people out, no need to give us a top ten sins, no need to point fingers – it is a simple observation to say all have sinned. The bible often needs to be filtered, understood in its time and place, dug out from the layers of earth that have covered it, released to hear what the message really is.
With this cautionary word we approach , we can approach the Gospel passage.
Here we are allowed access to Simon the Pharisees thoughts. He is the one who has invited Jesus as guest at his table. Is he a genuine host or does he have another agenda? He seems to betray himself when we know what his thoughts are – he says to himself, if Jesus was a prophet he would know what kind of woman this was. Is his invitation to his table a false one, to catch Jesus out, to trip him up, to twist his words.
Jesus reads his thoughts and simply points out what Simon has missed out. He forgot to kiss him as would have been normal, the woman didn’t forget to kiss him. It would have been normal to allow him to wash, his feet, his hands and bathe, Simon offers him none of this, but the woman washes his feet and dries his feet with her hair. It would have been normal to allow his guest to use oil to cleanse himself, nothing of this was offered to him, but the woman did not forget to offer Jesus the oil that she had brought.
Jesus utters these evocative words – Simon, you see this woman. … Simon does see the woman, but all he sees is a public sinner, he doesn’t see what lies behind her acts. He understands the logic of someone owing much and being let off with the debt and being more grateful than someone who has a smaller debt and is let off. But he cannot see this in the woman. The woman who has been forgiven much knows how to love much.
You see this woman. Jesus clearly sees the woman. Clearly sees what lies behind the action. Clearly sees what is in her heart. Cleary sees the love. Cleary sees that she has been forgiven much. Simon sees nothing of this.
There is a frightening things here for all of us. We can live a lifetime and never get it. We can hear for a whole lifetime the importance of repentence but never do it. We can hear for a whole lifetime the importance of forgiveness but never forgive. We can speak about love but never love. We can say that mercy is important but never show it.
At the end of the story there are words that rock the world! Jesus addressing the woman says: your sins are forgiven you. No one can forgive sins but God alone. These words are important to hear over and over again, your sins are forgiven you. They are the reason that Jesus came into the world, to say these words.
In the house of Simon the Pharisee the words are said. Either they are true or they are false. Either they change the world or they don’t. Either they are saving words or they are empty words. Either they give life or they don’t. What is it to be?
In this house these words are said over and over again. In baptism these words are said to you. In confession they will be said to you individually. In the scriptures you hear them over and over again. In the Mass you will hear these words. These are words that the heart and mind and the soul need to hear – only God alone can utter them. They are words that set us free, they are words that break the chains, they are words that bring light in darkness. Your sins are forgiven you.---go in peace.