The woman who anointed Jesus feet as depicted in today’s gospel reading was aware of her being unacceptable, and yet had the courage to accept God’s acceptance. In the eyes of Simon and the people of the town in which she resided, she was considered outcast, a person of scorn, a person on the fringe of society. To them she was unacceptable. Jesus, on the other hand proclaimed that her sins had been forgiven and the so-called unaccepted one, was now identified as acceptable to God. Jesus told Simon, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven.”
Faith and Trust Today’s gospel reading reminds us that Jesus in his ministry proclaimed forgivness, healed, and restored people of all sorts, all backgrounds, and all levels of faith. Simon, who was a Pharisee, was a follower of the law and as such, his life was spent in pursuit of righteousness. He wanted desperately to be accepted by God and for him, the means to that end, was the law. The pursuit was fruitless, because no matter how hard he tried, he still in some way, fell into a sinful pattern of self righteousness that led to failure, disappointment, and struggle to earn God’s acceptance. Simon’s piety, and his wisdom served as a constant reminder that he was imperfect and his struggle to attain perfection continued with disappointment. Relatively speaking, Simon believed that everyone else also fell short of his level of perfection, and of God’s acceptance, and his attitude was evident in his assessment of the woman anointing Jesus feet when he said, “This woman is a sinner!”
The woman, a person of reputation in the town, trusted that her acceptance, her forgiveness by God was not be earned, but was a gift that only had to be received. She trusted that there was nothing that she could do to earn it. She believed that when we acknowledge our weakness, our sin, God promises forgiven our sin. It was through her trust and belief in God’s promise of forgiveness, of God’s acceptance, that she received the assurance of peace. In realizing that she could do nothing to earn God’s grace, the gift of God, freed her to love. Her knowledge of the depth of her forgiveness resulted in the loving response to Jesus, the manifestation of God, the human reality of God’s grace incarnate, which led this woman to find the courage to crash Simon’s dinner party.
We are accepted by God and it is this truth, that requires our faith and trust. Faith in Christ leads us to respond in love. Tillich affirms this in his 1952 work the “Courage to Be.” He wrote, “We cannot love unless we have accepted forgiveness, and the deeper our experience of forgiveness is, the greater is our love.” (Tillich 1952) Paul Tillich
Loving Response The woman in today’s gospel loved Jesus. She trusted that he was God’s presence with us, that he brought the good news of perfect love , and that he affirmed God’s acceptance and forgiveness. Her experience of forgiveness was so great, that her loving response was equally great. Jesus illustrated this depth of love through the parable of the two debtors. Both debtors owed a debt that they themselves could not repay, but even so, they were released from that debt. The one who knew the great depth of their own forgiveness, naturally responded to the creditor with greater love and gratitude.
However, Simon missed the point of the parable. In the woman, all he saw was a sinner in front of him who had the audacity to enter his home and touch the prophet he was trying to entertain. Simon failed to show even the slightest bit of love toward Jesus and Jesus did not hesitate to make him aware of it. “ Simon, I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”
Simon saw her actions as a social outrage, but Jesus saw her gestures of love as a witness to her faith in God’s forgiveness. (pause) When we realize God’s depth of love for us, and when we trust in God’s promises, then our response becomes love towards God (p) and love towards others. The love expressed to others, this love which comes only from God, incarnated in our lives, has its roots in the Christian principle of radical hospitality.
The Latin root of the word hospitality is hospes, and it is the root word for the word hospital. Obviously, a hospital is not only a place for care and healing, but it is also a place of love in action. Hospitality is love enacted toward those who are on the edges of knowing God’s love, God’s peace, and the assurance of forgiveness.
Hospitality is lived out acceptance of the unacceptable. In first century Palestine, hospitality was a matter of life and death. Honor was the greatest good which could be bestowed upon someone by a community. If you wanted to be an honorable person among honorable people, you had to be a good host. There was an understood relationship between the host and their guest. The host was required to extend protection to their guests against anything. The guest was required to praise the host and thus bring him/her honor among the community. All this was done in a particular way. The most obvious symbol of this host/guest relationship was through the action of offering water for the traveler to wash their feet.
Simon failed to extend this basic courtesy of hospitality. Where was the love? The woman on the other hand, let down her hair, washed his feet with her tears, anointed his feet with oil, and dried them with her hair. This was an act of self-giving for the sake of love. Even though she was in someone else’s house, she practiced a radical hospitality that extended beyond personal property and personal guests in the home, it included others with whom she encountered, wherever she might find them.
The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ when we bear witness to him wherever we may be, and when we carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world. We are called to be a radically hospitable people. We are to be willing to recognize the outcast as one who are in need. The least, the lost and the lonely are in need of knowing the acceptance, the forgiveness and the grace of God. Our hospitable gestures of love to those who seem to be outcasts, may be the only glimpse of God’s love they ever witness.
The single mom struggling to make a home for her child, the homeless woman or man who has no place to lay their head, the widow or widower struggling with loneliness and depression, the recently retired couple coming to grips with a major life transition, these are just a few who are on the edges of our community. They need God’s acceptance. How do we restore them to unity with God and the community of believers. (p) We love them. We let our knowledge of the abundant love of God flow through us in the loving gestures necessary to reveal Christ to them.
The Church is like a hospital in which those who are seeking healing, are really the healers. Those who need peace, let down their go their of fear in order to offer the kiss of peace. Those who need generosity, really are the ones who anoint others with the oil of generosity. Those who are desperate and lonely, really are the ones who wash away the tears of desperation and loneliness. We who have been forgive much, let us love much. Remember Jesus great teaching about radical hospitality, “When you do this to the least of these, you do it to me.”