St. Luke 7.vv.36-50

~ One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him - that she is a sinner". Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you". "Teacher", he replied, "Speak". "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?". Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt". And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly". Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 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". Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven". But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?". And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace". ~

There is an ancient (non biblical) tradition that St. Luke was an artist. This is dubious, but he certainly "painted" in words some lovely and vivid scenes as he recounted stories about Jesus. One of the most unforgettable scenes is his portrayal of the harlot in the house of Simon the Pharisee; the contrast between the abject penitent sinner and the self-righteous uncompassionate host.

Simon's motive in inviting Jesus to his home is a matter of speculation. It is unlikely that he intended a slight on Jesus but he certainly omitted to perform the customary marks of hospitality - the kiss of welcome, the water for the feet and the anointing with incense or attar of roses - all of which, said Jesus, were in a sense performed by the penitent woman in her love. The woman may have been present by chance, for feasts were at least witnessed by members of the public; but maybe she seized this chance to give thanks and express love for a past encounter with the one who forgave her sins. As the feast progressed, her love and tears overflowed and she found herself , a notoriously bad character, forgiven and accepted as she redressed Simon's slight to Jesus by unbinding her hair (a mark of shame) to wipe the tears from Jesus' feet and using a costly ointment to anoint his feet. Overwhelmed with love, she gained forgiveness from the one who could lift her up and grant her pardon.

The little parable of the two debtors contained in this story is a fitting description of the perceptions of the three characters in this story.

Simon saw a notorious sinner, a disreputable creature, one who did not deserve pardon, a woman of the streets. The woman saw herself in similar terms but she was aware also that she was in the presence of one who had the power and the will to forgive and restore her. Jesus saw a censorious unloving Pharisee but also a miserable sinner he loved for her own and God's sake, a life to be transfigured.

"You can't change human nature", we often hear people say and how true this is - but God can and does! Jesus has the power and the will to make bad people good.

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