Most of us, most of the time, do not need anyone else’s help for us to judge ourselves poorly. We are well apprised of how we have missed the mark, perjured ourselves, once more done or said those things we have ought not to have done or said, and not done or said those things we should have. Momentarily we will be invited to make a personal, corporate confession of our sin. We will just plough ahead with this. What is so pathetic is we need not be asked for a show of hands, whether time for confession would be helpful. The ancient liturgy of the church – without benefit of having personally surveyed either you or me – presumes the state of things in our soul, and that, yet again, our personal confession of sin would be both helpful and necessary for most all of us. The distinctive quality of confessions, in my experience, is that they are so tedious and boring.
Jesus judges this woman about whom we hear in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus judges her. Jesus puts a face to God’s judgment, and it is a judgment of love. It is not a judgment of ridicule, or rejection, or hopelessness, or boredom, or eternal condemnation, but rather a judgment of love.
This woman is a known person. It’s her again. We can presume that Jesus is also a known person. It’s him again. She did not pick Jesus at random. She knows something about him, most likely has heard him teaching, seen him healing before. What she is doing, down on her knees, is making her confession with alabaster oil and tears. It’s an extravagant confession, as is her known sin. No words from her are recorded. What’s to say? It’s her again. Most significant in this Gospel story is not whether Jesus bears God’s love, nor whether Jesus bears God’s love for this woman. Jesus has said that before, and she has heard it. The question – her question – is whether Jesus still loves her? Yes, he still loves her. He still loves us.
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.
Today’s Gospel is a story about contrasts. We heard in Luke’s Gospel this morning that a Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to eat with him. A woman of that city came to that house with a jar of ointment and stood at Jesus’ feet, weeping and washing his feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair and anointing them.
In his Spiritual Exercises, the great 16th century saint and founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola, employs a method of prayer in which one uses the imagination to envision the setting of a gospel story and then allows the story to unfold in his mind’s eye — observing the characters, their words and actions, and noticing particularly where one’s attention is drawn in the story.