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 canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled 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." Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. -Luke 7:36-8:3
About This Weeks Prompts for Personal Meditation A womanof the city who was a sinner makes her way into the house of Simon and places herself at the feet of Jesus. We don't know what her sin is, but the sins of the flesh have been ascribed to her through centuries of art, sermons, commentary, poetry. What other sins does she have power to commit? Extortion? Junk stock trading? Selling inferior cement for oil rigs? Furthermore,“she loved much”seems like a double entendre. Perhaps she simply loved the wrong person at the wrong time. The theme of misplaced love generates the Biblical plot from Genesis on. Israel whores around with other gods and Yahweh woos her back again and again. Note the touching story of Hosea and his unfaithful wife as an analogy to the sacred drama. I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her...Hosea 2:14 The woman who loved much contrasts with Simon. Her love might have become misdirected or cheapened or, more likely, sold for her very survival. But Simon sits as self righteous judge over the tawdry drama of repentance taking place at their feet. And yet, her tears have saved her. Pay attention to your tears (meditation one). Tears are better than words (meditation two). Your life-giving tears will draw others into the love of God (meditation three). Loving much, -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) tears
You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you've never seen before. A pair of somebody's old shoes can do it. Almost any movie made before the great sadness that came over the world after the Second World War, a horse cantering across a meadow, the high school basketball team running out onto the gym floor at the start of a game. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.
They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.
Frederick Buechner b.1926 Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter's Dictionary
(detail - alabaster Jar ) St. Mary Magdalene, Quentin Massys, 16th century, detail
Miscellany A little more from Buechner. He writes of his conversion in his book Now and Then. A sermon by George Buttrick which includes the phrase “among confession, and tears, and great laughter,” moves him deeply. Buechner talks about enrolling at Union Theological Seminary and wanting to study theology, church history, and Bible: No intellectual pursuit had ever aroused in me such intense curiosity, and much more than my intellect was involved, much more than my curiosity aroused. In the unfamiliar setting of a Presbyterian church, of all places, I had been moved to astonished tears which came from so deep inside me that to this day I have never fathomed them, I wanted to learn more about the source of those tears and the object of that astonishment.
Meal in the House of Simon, Unknown Artist, French School
Meditation Two (insight) by her love of truth We do not read that she spoke, but that she wept; and nevertheless we believe that she spoke in a better way, but with tears rather than words. In fact, speaking with tears is very fruitful in the sight of God. While the woman maintained silence with her mouth, tears did the work; and while her tongue was silent, her tears were confessing and supplicating better, in a more useful way. For this reason, while weeping the Holy Sinner kept quiet, lest he [the Lord] accuse her of saying too little about the evil she had done. In all cases, prayers expressed by tears are better than those expressed by words. -Geoffrey of Vendome 1093-1132 Sermon IX, PL 158, 271-72 quoted from The Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages by Katherine Ludwig Jansen ...a woman of the city which was a sinner, washed out the stain of her sins with her tears by her love of the truth; and the world of truth is fulfilled which says her sins are forgiven for she loved much. She who had previously been cold through sin was afterward aflame with love. -Gregory the Great c540-604 Homily XXV
Meditation Three (insight) open to life and love When anyone discovers the healing fountains of conversion, it is in some way through the gift of other people, and the waters of life thus received overflow in their turn into the lives of others, to fructify the deserts of human experience; it becomes a chain reaction, not only for those who hear but for those who read about the event. At each stage there are tears, not the tears of self-pity or remorse, but the lifegiving tears that come from a heart suddenly open to life and love. -Benedicta Ward Harlots of the Desert
The Last Word How blest are those who know their need of God, the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
-Matthew 5:3 (trans.New English Bible)
The Alabaster Jar
An alabaster jar! What an extravagant item for a “woman of the city” to possess! Was she rich? Or did she sell all for this mysterious anointing? This was no spontaneous act, “having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house.”
It doesn't take a prophet to surmise from her weeping, feet kissing, and hair wiping that she's not your average dignified matron. “Her sins were many.” Neither does it take a prophet to sense that she “loves much.”
Where did the tears come from? I was once supposed to cry in a play but I could not bring up tears. “If you don't cry I'll MAKE you cry!” the director threatened. So we found a comic compromise - a sort of scrunch faced howl. Tears need to come spontaneously and from a genuine place beyond self control.
The woman's strong emotion is undeniable. But tears of repentance? Perhaps. But think about her careful preparations: the alabaster jar, the purchase of expensive ointment, the planning it took to insinuate herself into the dinner party.
Is her deep emotion because she wants to be forgiven or that she knows she has been forgiven? “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.'
This last word seems like it is meant as a clarification for Simon, for the murmurers at the party, for the woman, and for those of us listening in on the scene all these centuries later. “Your faith has saved you.” Your faith has saved you, not now, on the floor kissing my feet, but this morning when you bought the alabaster jar as a sacrifice of gratitude.