How often do we discover ourselves in the stories of the gospels? There are many persons whom we encounter as the writers unfold their story. It does not take us long to realize that each of these persons is in many ways ourselves.
In the Gospel of Luke this weekend, we find an incident that involves three persons: Jesus, a Pharisee by the name of Simon and a woman who is known as “a sinner.” We live as disciples of Jesus. This story, as is so often the case, is about us.
The Pharisee is a respected member of the religious elite in Israel. He carefully and meticulously observes the rules and behavior that are expected of him. He is a sincere and an honest person. He is honoured that Jesus has accepted his invitation to eat at his house. But his sense of what is appropriate is shocked when a woman whose reputation was not good enters the house and comes to Jesus.
The woman enters the house and goes immediately to Jesus. She appears to say nothing. But her actions express her inner intentions. She washes his feet with her tears and anoints them with oil. She kisses his feet. This seems to be strange behavior. But in the culture of the day it was an eloquent expression of two important messages. It is an expression of hospitality. Secondly, it acknowledges her need for healing and forgiveness of hurt and sin. She wanted to be freed from the burden of her guilt and failings and she saw Jesus as able to offer this.
Jesus is the third person and the center of the story. Luke’s story helps us see the openness of Jesus’ message. His mission is to everyone, for the Kingdom is intended for all. The Pharisees in the gospel are often portrayed as standing in opposition to Jesus. Even in the face of such opposition, Jesus is open to accepting the invitation to a Pharisee’s house. The occasion serves as an opportunity to further present the caring and open message of the Kingdom.
The encounter with the woman is the key to this message. Here is one who is seen and sees herself as a sinner. A better way to say this is to say that she lives in alienation. While we have a tendency to see sin as the breaking of a rule, it is better seen as alienation. Sin is our separation from God, from others and from our inner good. We become so self-centered that we cut ourselves off from all the life-giving relationships of our lives. We set ourselves up as living alone.
I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has
shown great love.... Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven....
Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
Jesus’ response to this alienated woman is the response of the Kingdom. Hearing the message of the Kingdom so converted her, so turned her that her alienation ended. No longer was she cut off from God, her community or from her own inner good.
In this Year of Mercy, as a faith community, our Church has been given a call to be prophets of mercy to the world. We best do this through the manner in which we are open and welcoming to all, particularly the excluded, the alienated and the outcasts. May we as disciples of Jesus be the “face of God’s mercy” for all.