One day Jesus was invited to dine at the house of a Pharisee. While they were at table, a woman “who was a sinner” entered the room with an alabaster jar of ointment. She began to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Then she continued to kiss his feet as she poured the costly ointment over them. We are not told who the woman was, or what had earned her the reputation of “a sinner,” or how she knew Jesus, or why she was weeping and anointing his feet. The gospel writer records only her simple act of profound love and devotion.
The Pharisee objected mightily to this woman’s presence in his house. He may have been irritated that she was distracting his guest and ruining his party. But it’s more likely that he objected to her very presence. 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.” For the Pharisee, that label had clear implications: it dictated how a righteous person would respond to her. Certainly a teacher like Jesus should understand these important social norms. Not only would he not have let her touch him, he would not have interacted with her in any way. To do so would compromise his own holiness.
Jesus turned to him and asked him an important question. He said, “Simon, do you see this woman?” He was not asking if Simon had noticed her. Of course he saw her, from the moment she entered the room. What Jesus was really asking Simon was, “What do you see when you look at this woman? Can you really see heror are you seeing only the label you have affixed to her? Can you look past the label and see her as she is?”
That’s the problem with labels, isn’t it? When we label others, we stop seeing them as they are. We see them only as we are determined to see them, as we have decided that they must be. It’s important, then, to ask ourselves the same question Jesus asked Simon. Who is it that I have difficulty seeing? Is there a person – or group of people – whom I refuse to see? Can I set aside my labels and take a fresh look?
Or it could be that I need to take a fresh look at myself. What labels have I used to describe myself? What names do I secretly call myself? In what ways do I criticize or belittle myself? Here, too, I am challenged to peel back the label and take a fresh look at the person. Can I see myself as Jesus sees me? What do I see when I look at others or at myself? A person or a label?
Simon is fixed on the label. Jesus sees the person, sees her compassion, her courage, her generosity, and her love. If we can get past our labels, we might be able to see the beauty in others and in ourselves.
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