Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?”
The Gospel is alive and well, but there is an exodus from the Church in North America. My hunch is that it has something to do with the fact that, very often, the “world” is a more hospitable place than many churches, and that’s saying something given our culture of polarization and rivalry. People are hungry for a Gospel of forgiveness and inclusion. Sadly, we continue to pedal a gospel of judgment and exclusion instead. We are desperate for a Gospel like the one revealed in this week’s text, especially in vulnerable urban communities.
This week we encounter “a woman in the city, who was a sinner” (v. 37) She finds her way inside an exclusive dinner party. There she anoints Jesus. The host of the dinner is deeply offended by her behavior. It’s a volatile situation given her social status. Jesus diffuses it. She becomes the subject of transforming grace rather than the object of religious scorn.
The phrase “a woman in the city, who was a sinner” (v. 44) is suggestive. She lacks personal identity. She is a public figure. She belongs to many, which is probably why she is referred to as a “sinner.” The label strips her of her humanity. And yet she finds her way inside the private dinner party. She brings expensive ointments, probably acquired by her very public profession, through which she not only earned her living, but also her reputation.
It would have been expected that servants would wash the feet of favored guests at the home of the social elite,
so it isn’t unusual that she is washing Jesus’ feet. It is her effusive anointing of Jesus and her shameless display of affection that offends the host. She becomes a source of scandal. The host outs her as a “sinner” (how did he know?). Jesus diffuses the situation by telling a story of two people: one who is forgiven little and one who is forgiven much. He asks Simon, his host, “Who will love more?” Simon correctly answers, “The one who is forgiven much.” There is more than a little irony here. Simon has no idea how much he is being forgiven.
“Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?” Notice the delicate and daring turn of phrase. Jesus is addressing Simon, but he does so by “turning toward the woman.” It is a Gospel turning.
Along with Simon, we are invited to turn towards that which we are tempted to turn from. In that turning, we are invited to see through the eyes of Jesus— to see without judgment. To see and be seen without judgment is to be transformed. In seeing this way we witness others and ourselves as we really are. We are all sinners undergoing forgiveness. Simon and the “sinner” are the same. Both are being forgiven much. That is the Gospel.
Jesus is also making a very practical point. Forgiveness precedes repentance. If there is an order to the Gospel, this is it! We are forgiven so that we might love. The woman shows great love because she has been forgiven. Those who have been forgiven much, love much. The fruit of having internalized forgiveness is the shameless outpouring of love. The fruit of having internalized judgment is a shameful outpouring of scorn.
In the end, it’s the experience of being forgiven that saves us. This is the “faith” that Jesus praises in the woman. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (v. 50). That’s the whole point of the story. The only faith that saves is the faith of one who is undergoing forgiveness by the One who sees without judgment. The fruit of this is a shameless outpouring of love. That’s gospel turning!