Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-50
I don’t like this guy, Simon. Don’t you agree? He is arrogant, judgmental, self-righteous. He looks down on this woman. He looks down on Jesus for not treating the woman with the disdain he thinks she deserves. He seems like the kind of guy who always walks with his nose in the air, looking down with a bit of a smirk on everyone who is “beneath” him – and that is everyone! Simon seems like one of those “popular” kids in high school, who thought they were better than everyone else. Kind of a bully.
But Jesus has a little story for Simon. Two people were in debt to the local money-lender. One owed two years’ wages and another 2 months’ wages. Neither was any more able to pay back the debt, so the money-lender, amazingly, forgave both debts. Just tore up the paperwork, right in front of them both. It was amazing. Nothing like this ever happens. It is like winning the lottery! But which of the two will love him more?
Simon acknowledges, “The one who was forgiven more.” Good answer. But does he really understand the answer he has pronounced? Jesus doesn’t think so. The source of this woman’s extravagance came from her experience of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is often misunderstood. Somehow, we have the concept that to forgive someone is to say that what they did is okay. But, forgiveness is realizing it WAS as bad as you thought it was, and moving ahead anyway. As if it never happened? Not exactly. The fact that it happened has made you who you are. The trauma of the offense has shaped you, taken something from you. But you need not live life dejected and downtrodden. Forgiveness is letting go of our sense of justice, that the wound can be repaired. It can’t. But we can live without the weight of bitterness.
Forgiveness at heart is the restoration of relationship. It is releasing any claim on someone else for some past injury or offense. That’s why the analogy to a debt works so well. People often wonder why the Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” The image of credit cards and mortgages comes to mind for some, and it seems odd in this context. But the truth is that we have all fallen short and owe debts of love and hospitality to our fellow human beings.
When we forgive, we cancel the debt of what is owed to us because of past trauma, unfairness, injustice. It opens up the future. It gives us back ourselves. This is what Jesus did for the woman. He allowed her to be fully human, unburdened by any shortfall before the law. She was freed, because she loved and because she was loved. Forgiveness gives you back yourself. After so long, being labeled a sinner, she walked out with a new name: forgiven, saved, made whole.
Reading the Greek in verse 47 is kind of interesting. It could be translated: “Her many sins have been forgiven because she loves much.” There is no indication of what the sins may have been of which this woman was guilty. Jesus doesn’t argue about the woman’s sinfulness. He just says that because of her great love, she has been forgiven. It sounds like love erases sin. Could it be true?
I wonder about that. The word for love in this passage is “agape,” a famous word for love in the Bible. God’s kind of love. Outside the Bible, this word referred to an unconditional, universal love, not within any human bonds of family, friend, or of any obligation – not even the obligation of the Law. It simply is. No condition or change impacts it. It is just love, an unbreakable acceptance and inclusion. Rachel Naomi Remen compares this love with the human urge to perfectionism:
I experienced that I and everyone else was always falling short, that who we were and what we did was never quite good enough. I sat in judgment on life itself. Perfectionism is the belief that life is broken. Many adult perfectionists had a parent who was a perfectionist, someone who awarded approval on the basis of performance and achievement. They learned early that they were loved for what they did and not simply for who they are. Sadly, for a perfectionistic parent, achievement is rarely ever good enough. The lives of their children can become a constant striving to earn love. The confusion between love and approval is so common in our culture that we have found it necessary to create a special rare sub-category of love, “Unconditional Love.” Of course love, like grace, is never earned. All love is unconditional. Anything we need to earn is only approval. (http://www.rachelremen.com/beyond-perfection/)
Forgiveness released this woman from society’s or God’s approval. She was placed back in the center of the agape, which is completely undaunted by wrongs or disappointments.
So the woman is forgiven because of her great love. But that is not the end of the story. Jesus also compares her to his host. Here she is – an intruder to Simon’s dinner party – and she has shown all the hospitality that Simon neglected. She is, as it turns out, not Simon’s inferior at all but in every way her actions show her to be superior when it comes to treating Jesus the way an honored guest should be treated.
I find this question, “Do you see this woman?” to be curious. Of course Simon sees the woman – he has despised this sinner touching Jesus ever since she started. Of course Simon sees the woman – she’s an embarrassment to the sanctity of the table. But, does Simon SEE this woman? Does he see beyond his own judgment of her? Can he see her eyes? Her heart? Her love? Simon, when he looks at this woman, sees not her, but his own judgment of her.
When Simon saw the woman, he saw a sinner (Luke 7:39). When Jesus looked at the woman, he saw great love (Luke 7:47). In what ways do our assumptions get in the way of our seeing the other for who someone they really are? When we look at people through the narrow, rigid lenses of judgment, rather than through the broad, beautiful lenses of love and mercy, how does it change who we see?
It is also curious that Luke names neither the woman nor the sin. We tend to jump to conclusions about who she is and what her sins may have been. But it is an open question. Luke, perhaps wants us to be able to identify with her – to see in her our own mistakes, missteps and downright wrong-doing. She is the proverbial “every man, every woman.” She is us. Loved. And loving. Forgiven and forgiving. Seen for who she is, one enveloped in love, and so, never outside of God’s embrace.
One more thing – let’s forgive Simon, too. I like identifying with the much-loving woman, but identifying with the stuck-up Simon is hard. But my delight in seeing Simon get his comeuppance reveals that I see him through the eyes of my judgment, just as he saw the woman. I am no better. How much love do you think was in Jesus’ eyes when he spoke these words to Simon? It could have been anger, but I have always heard a broken heart. Jesus’ words for Simon are also spoken out of much love.
Forgiveness may be a big word, too much to face sometimes. Maybe mercy would be better.
Song: “Mercy Now,” Mary Gauthier
My father could use a little mercy now
The fruits of his labor fall and rot slowly on the ground
His work is almost over it won’t be long, he won’t be around
I love my father, he could use some mercy now
My brother could use a little mercy now
He’s a stranger to freedom, he’s shackled to his fear and his doubt
The pain that he lives in it’s almost more than living will allow
I love my bother, he could use some mercy now
My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit it’s going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down
I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now
Every living thing could use a little mercy now
Only the hand of grace can end the race towards another mushroom cloud
People in power, they’ll do anything to keep their crown
I love life and life itself could use some mercy now
Yeah, we all could use a little mercy now
I know we don’t deserve it but we need it anyhow
We hang in the balance dangle ‘tween hell and hallowed ground
And every single one of us could use some mercy now
Every single one of us could use some mercy now
David Lose, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2601
Mark D. Davis, http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/do-you-see-this-woman.html