A useful way for Christians to read Scripture is to recognize the people they are like or unlike in the various texts (this is not the only way to read Scripture, nor is it always the most appropriate or helpful way to read, but sometimes it can be very good). The gospel lectionary reading for this week is the story of Jesus eating dinner with a Pharisee, and a sinful woman washing Jesus’ feet at the dinner. The story really only has three important characters: Simon the Pharisee, Jesus, and the woman. There are some other guests who speak briefly, probably some silent household servants, and perhaps a crowd outside the entrance to the house. At the heart of this passage is Jesus’ explanation about the value of forgiveness being greater for the one who is forgiven much. I tend to identify with the Pharisee in these stories. I am, after all, a religious leader. Sometimes we misread the pharisees as bumbling, but they were authentically trying to follow what they understood to be the faith. The problem is that they over emphasized certain aspects of following God AND didn’t recognize Jesus and his message. To Simon’s credit, he is ready to learn. I marvel when Solomon asks God for wisdom to rule (1 Kings 3:9). I marvel when the disciples are astute enough to ask Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). I marvel at Nicodemus in chapter three of John’s gospel. And here, I marvel at Simon. Instead of brushing past an incident of societal impropriety (the sinful woman in his house/at his table) or his own rudeness in questioning Jesus under his breath, Simon is prepared to hear and learn. Honestly, my first attempt in these kinds of situations tends to be to minimize the discomfort and move quickly to the next topic. Here Simon displays a rare desire for more. I hope that I too can listen for that, so when Jesus teaches me I am ready to say, “Tell me, teacher.”
My identification with the other two characters is more simplistic, but no less profound. The sinful woman (we never know the nature of her sin, only that it was public enough that Simon knew) reminds me of the great debt that I too owe to Jesus. Even were I to bring the very best I have to offer to Jesus’ feet it would not be enough, and that Jesus would be pleased with even the insufficient offering I give. Tears and weeping are the mirrors of deepest gratitude. I even identify with Jesus. No, not in a sacrilegious way, but I recognize in the forgiveness he offers the woman, the forgiveness that I am supposed to be extending all around me. He calls us over and over again, not only to receive forgiveness from him, but to offer forgiveness. It is something we all continue to work on.
Find yourself in the reading and continue to live the Good News.