Luke 7:36-50A religious leader invites Jesus to dinner. While Jesus is reclining at the table, a woman identified only as a “sinner” shows up. She stands behind Jesus’ feet, weeping, and her tears fall on Jesus’ feet -- which are still dusty from the outside as we learn later that Simon was remiss in his host duties and didn’t offer Jesus any water for foot-washing (desert plus sandals? you get the picture). She washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and then dries them with her hair. She then goes on to kiss Jesus’ feet and anoint them with ointment.
36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and Jesus went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.
37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind Jesus’ feet, weeping, and began to bathe them with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing Jesus’ feet and anointing them with the ointment.
39Now when the Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw it, he said to himself, “A prophet would have known who and what kind of woman this is—a sinner.”
40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.”
41 “Two people owed money to a creditor. One owed the creditor the equivalent of two years’ wages; the other, two months’ wages. 42 Both were unable to pay, so the creditor wrote off both debts. Which of them was more grateful to the moneylender?”
43Simon answered, “I suppose the one who had the greater debt canceled.”
And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
44Then turning toward the woman, Jesus said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? 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. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
48Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49But those who sat together at the table began to ask among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
-NRSV, edited with help from The Inclusive Bible and my best friend
This is a strongly embodied interaction. The woman doesn’t come to Jesus with an eloquent plea for forgiveness -- or an eloquent screed against the Pharisee -- or an eloquent statement of faith. She just shows up.
She draws near to this person Jesus, even though the atmosphere is hostile to her.
She stands behind Jesus, perhaps feeling hesitant, but she also doesn’t hide. When her tears fall on Jesus’ feet, she doesn’t apologize for the interruption, she moves with it into an offering of love.
Simon is appalled that this sinful woman is behaving so intimately with this rabbi, especially in public, and thinks this must be a sign that Jesus isn’t really a great prophet, because of course a prophet would have recognized her sin and recoiled from her touch.
Jesus, of course, has a very different perspective.
A couple chapters earlier, some Pharisees and other religious scholars asked, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” and Jesus replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Luke 5:30-31a).
Of course, all of us are in need of healing and forgiveness, but unlike Simon, the sinful woman in this story recognizes her need.
Whereas the woman experiences Jesus’ forgiveness like the debtor who had two years’ wages worth of debt forgiven, Simon would have experienced a statement of forgiveness as a much smaller burden relieved -- and, actually, I think it equally likely that Simon would have been insulted by the idea that he had anything he needed to be forgiven for.
The woman is transformed by this forgiveness. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” She has been saved. The weight of all that sin and guilt has been lifted from her. Like the woman in Luke 13 [verses 10-17] who had been bent over for 18 years, this woman has been released from her bondage.
Being “saved” is not a simplistic transaction -- insert repentance, or statement of belief, or whatever … receive free pass to Heaven. Rather it is a transformation. We are released from the death-dealing forces which have kept us trapped, released into abundant life. The stress and turmoil which have weighed us down, which have confused our path … these are wiped away, like water washing dust and dirt off our feet. We are given a new lease on life -- except that a lease implies debt, and this new life is a gift, no repayment required.
However, while nothing is required of us, it would be inappropriate for us to sit smugly with our gift, making no motion to behave in a similarly gracious fashion toward others.
Jesus reminds us, “the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” It is easy for us to feel like the debtor forgiven of a relatively small amount -- and to therefore be stingy in our generosity toward others. Who invited you to this party? What will you buy with my spare change if I give it to you? We erect barriers to keep people in their place, administer tests to decide who goes where...
But God meets us where we are, just as we are -- and calls us to meet others likewise. God meets us in the dusty, dirty feet of Jesus. God meets us in the tears of an unnamed woman.
God meets us in all the mess of our bodies, in all the mess of our lives. And all God asks is that we show up, that we allow ourselves to touch and be touched in return -- to be transformed by that connection … and to live out that peace in our lives.
“Your faith has saved you” isn’t about statements of faith you sign onto, it’s about faith in the transforming power of God … faith in the power of that connection.
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”