CONTEMPLATION: The Penitent Woman by William A. Anderson

From The Gospel of Luke: Salvation For All Humanity

And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.

And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.  And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.

And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance. (Luke 7:26-8:3)


Jesus came for the salvation of all people, and though this gospel emphasizes Jesus’s love for the outcasts and downtrodden, we will also glimpse him ministering to the Jewish people as he does with the Pharisees. Luke describes one such meal with a Pharisee named Simon who invited Jesus to dine with him. In Jesus’s day, people reclined at table, resting on their sides and elbows, instead of sitting in chairs. In this posture, the feet of Jesus and the others at table would be easily accessible to anyone who wished to wash the person’s feet.

While Jesus is dining with Simon, a woman known as a sinner comes into the banquet and anoints Jesus’s feet with oil, washing them with her tears, and drying them with her hair. Some writers believe this woman is Mary Magdalene or Mary, the sister of Martha, but there is no evidence about the woman’s identity. Simon, true to the gospel image of the Pharisees, believes that a good person would not allow a sinful person to touch him or her. Because of this, he presumes that Jesus lacks knowledge of this woman’s sinfulness, thus accusing Jesus in his mind and heart of not being a prophet.

Jesus reads Simon’s thoughts and responds with a short parable about a rich moneylender and two debtors. One of the debtors owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. The moneylender forgives both debts. Jesus asks Simon which of the two debtors was more grateful to the lender. Simon reluctantly answers in favor of the one who has received forgiveness for the greater debt. Jesus then compares Simon’s lack of concern for Jesus with the woman’s obvious concern and love for him.

In Jesus’s era, when a guest came into a house for dinner, the host would usually have a servant wash his feet. The host then welcomed the guest with a kiss and had the guest’s head anointed. Simon did not have Jesus’s feet washed and he did not receive him with the customary kiss and anointing. The woman, however, used her tears to wash Jesus’s feet, kissed them, and anointed them. Because she had many sins, she had a greater need to express her love and gratitude. Her great faith enabled Jesus to forgive her sins. When Jesus tells her that her sins are forgiven, the other guests wonder who it is that can forgive sins. Jesus praises her faith, and using the common bidding of the day, he tells her to go in peace.

After speaking of the woman who washed Jesus’s feet, Luke speaks of other women who follow Jesus. As Jesus continues his journey, preaching about the kingdom of God in towns and villages, the Twelve and some women whom Jesus cured of evil spirits or infirmities accompany him. Luke mentions the names of several of these women, two of whom, Mary Magdalene and Joanna, will be witnesses to the empty tomb at the time of Jesus’s resurrection. During the time of Jesus, women were considered inferior to men, and although they would on occasion accompany the men on their journeys, writers would ordinarily not mention them.


Lectio Divina

Spend eight to ten minutes in silent contemplation of the following passage:

We may never see the sinner change interiorly, but we do not have the right to judge the spiritual condition of another. Many sinners have eventually become great saints.

* What can I learn from this passage?

 

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