When was the last time you or anyone you know extended a dinner invitation to someone who holds significantly different religious beliefs – or different beliefs of any kind – from their own? We tend to naturally gravitate toward people who think like we do, and we especially don’t go out of our way to invite someone to our home who’s likely to strike up an argument at the dinner table. But that’s exactly what Simon the Pharisee does in Luke 7.
Simon invites Jesus to share a meal with him and other friends in his home. As a Pharisee, Simon was part of a group that was highly critical of Jesus, but… he was also curious. Who was this prophet who healed the sick and claimed to have the power to forgive sin? Could this be the Messiah spoken of in Scripture? To invite Jesus into his home was no small thing. And, not to be quickly glossed over is the fact that Jesus accepts the invitation of his enemy. What ensues is an example—one of many in the Gospel of Luke—where meals set the stage for transformation. At this meal, the catalyst for change comes from an unlikely source.
A young woman enters the house, but as a woman, she is not allowed to take a seat with the Jewish men propped up among pillows surrounding the table. She is also a known sinner in the town (although her specific sin remains unnamed), so what she does next quickly gets the Pharisees’ attention: She stands behind Jesus’ outstretched legs and while weeping, she washes his feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, kisses them, and applies expensive perfume to them.
Each of these acts alone—washing and drying feet, greeting with a kiss, and anointing with perfume—is a sign of hospitality. The sinful woman offers all of these to Jesus in remorse for her sins. Her faith is shown as a deep expression of love toward this prophet who offers her final forgiveness. And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
This is all Simon the Pharisee needs to see to be sure that Jesus is not the Messiah, for the real Messiah would never allow himself to be touched so intimately and be “defiled” by a sinner such as this woman.
Jesus then asks Simon a simple, yet profound, question: Do you see this woman? Do you see her? She is a woman, not just the label of sinner and all that goes with it. She is a person, a human being, who has come to thank Jesus for his forgiveness of her sins. Simon wanted to know more about Jesus? He need look no further than the woman at Jesus’ feet – the woman he so quickly and casually dismissed because her sins might in turn defile him.
We judge poor Simon, but really, he and the other Pharisees of Jesus’ time weren’t all that different from many of us today, including those called Christian. We are so constantly preoccupied with appearances and what our association with “some” people might say about us, that we forget the two main commandments deal with love of God and love of others. All others. Even the Pharisee we might theologically disagree with, or the sinner who looks for nothing but redemption.
Blessed Father, help me to be an example of your love for others. When I pray saying, Your kingdom come, your will be done, give me the strength to work towards that radical change to make life on earth now as it is in heaven. Amen.