The Ignatian spiritual exercise of Gospel Contemplation lets you use your imagination to interact with a passage of Scripture. The reflection below delves into Luke 7:36-50. Feel free to try it on your own! Read the Gospel passage twice slowly. Close your eyes and reflect: What do you see, taste, smell, hear? Who is with you? As you engage all your senses, the passage can open up to you in new ways. As you conclude your time, talk to Jesus directly. Tell him whatever is on your heart.
When or where the sinful woman encountered Jesus, we are not told. But when she hears that he is dining at Simon the Pharisee’s house, she knows that she must thank him. So she gathers her courage, enters the room, and makes her way toward the group of men reclining at the table. Time stands still as one by one, the men look up and startle at the sight of her. Expressions freeze in shock and amazement. Hands grasping succulent pita-filled kibbe pause in midair. How dare she, a woman of ill repute, enter their domain?
Breaking All the Rules
Still, on she comes, her tears pouring down like rain. There he is. She stands behind Jesus as those tears fall all the way down to his feet, soaking them. Then she does the unspeakable, loosening her long flowing hair with reckless abandon in this roomful of men, and wiping those feet, filthy from the street, with her beautiful tresses. As if that is not shocking enough, she begins to kiss his feet, over and over again.
She pulls out an alabaster flask of great price, breaks the flange, and pours its contents on his feet. The fragrance of the costly ointment permeates the room, but the men are too appalled to notice. This is not the way women may behave. Her behavior is highly inappropriate—and just plain messy. Who on earth would relate to a true prophet in this way? And what kind of a prophet would encourage, or even allow, this kind of relationship? Yet here it is. This woman is breaking all their rules and demonstrating a love that is outrageous, beyond their frame of reference.
Those Who Are Forgiven Much, Love Much
Simon thinks to himself, “I’ve caught him! If Jesus knew this woman’s reputation, he would never allow her to touch him, let alone do what she just did.”
Jesus knows what he is thinking. He perceives that Simon has been testing him all along; this was not just a friendly invitation to dinner. Simon is not interested in a relationship. So he stops Simon in his tracks.
“Simon, I have something to tell you.”
Then comes the story of the two debtors. One owed ten times what the other owed, but the moneylender cancels both debts. Which one would love him more, Jesus asks Simon.
Simon gets the point. Those who are forgiven much are the ones who love much. Jesus then puts Simon under the magnifying glass. Why hasn’t Simon extended to him the common courtesies that a host shows a guest? No water to wash his feet, no kiss of greeting, no oil to anoint and refresh. This woman has done all that Simon neglected to do, and extravagantly. It’s an appropriate response to the life-changing forgiveness she has received from Jesus. Simon is left to wonder. How many of his sins has he allowed God to forgive?
Realizing the Extent of Jesus’s Love
How about us? Does Jesus deserve our tears of thankfulness, our kisses of affection, our most costly treasures, our lives poured out? Does he deserve our passion? Have we reduced our relationship with him to a list of do’s and don’ts, a set of rules, a series of religious duties to be fulfilled? Jesus lashes out at the Pharisees for this sort of behavior. They went so far as to tithe on their spices, while neglecting the goals of the Law—justice, mercy, love (Luke 11:42). The woman whose tears fell on Jesus’s feet needed those things. Jesus gave them to her in abundance.
Jesus loves us passionately. Just look at the cross. He endured it for the joy that was set before him, his beautiful bride, the church. He wants us to return that love to him, and as we see the depth of our rebellion and the extent of his forgiveness, we will.
My husband travels occasionally for business. After a week’s absence, does he want to be greeted with a recitation of the windows I have washed, the bills I have paid, the bathrooms I have cleaned? No, he wants me to gather him into my arms for a big hug. He wants time with me, conversations back and forth, sharing the ups and downs of the week. So it is with our Savior. It’s about relationship, not rules. The woman at Simon’s house got it right. As we realize more fully the extent of Jesus’s love, our love for him will deepen, and our actions will follow. He who has been forgiven much, loves much.
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