June 16, 2013
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13
Galatians 2:16, 19-21
Luke 7:36-8:3 or 7:36-50
In one of my early Scripture courses, we were asked to create the “back story” for many of the Gospel scenes—the story not written that might help explain what was happening. Today’s Gospel lends itself to this sort of exercise because we know very little about the characters.
Who was Simon? In light of the social customs of the time, we can speculate about why he invited Jesus into his home in the first place. We know that Simon was a Pharisee. The Pharisees insisted on the binding force of the oral tradition (the unwritten Torah) and added their own interpretation to the Torah. Typically, Pharisees would gather to hear how various rabbis interpreted the Torah. This is one of the more benign explanations that might explain why Simon invited Jesus who was a Rabbi. Other interpretations suggest that Simon might have been looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, just as other Pharisees had done before. erhaps, and more likely, Simon was simply curious about this man who had caused such a stir in the community. Or perhaps, Simon was asked by his friends to invite Jesus. Whatever the reason, Simon had no idea that this would be a dinner party that would be remembered throughout all of history.
The custom of the time was to receive guests with a kiss, give them water to wash the dust off their feet and a little sweet smelling oil for their hair. Jesus was not offered any of these courtesies. Did Simon, thinking Jesus was less important, simply pay attention to those he knew were important and overlook Jesus?
And the woman who crashed the party. Who was she? Some say she was a prostitute. Still more say that she was Mary Magdalene but that is as unlikely as it is that she is Mary of Bethany. We simply do not know. The only thing of which we are certain is that her sins were many and Jesus’ forgiveness filled her with gratitude.
There is a lesson to be learned in this story that is much beyond good manners. Jesus uses Simon’s rudeness to get to the deeper issue: forgiveness. He links the woman’s faith with love and uses a parable to stress that link. God alone knows the heart and mind of those we might see as being sinners. Simon saw only a sinner. Jesus saw a woman who had accepted God’s initiative and responded.
In the Epistle, Paul touches a similar theme. While dealing with the question of how the observance of Jewish Law relates to faith in Christ, he reminds us that it is God who puts right the relationship between individuals and himself. More important, perhaps, is that it is God—not we—who knows what that relationship is.
Again and again, the Scriptures remind us that God loves sinners. If we are really heeding the Gospel, we know that we are sinners. Perhaps it made Simon feel better to judge that the woman was a bigger sinner than he. Perhaps it makes us feel better to know that there are sinners whose sins seem more serious than our own.
Today’s Gospel puts forward another standard: Knowing that God loves us all and is willing to forgive us all, who among us loves him more?