A meal hard to digest- Thursday, 24th week in ordinary time – Lk 7:36-50

A meal hard to digest- Thursday, 24th week in ordinary time – Lk 7:36-50

The story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet occurs in each of the other three canonical Gospels with a few differences in the each narrative.  In Luke’s narrative, there is a gradual revelation in the story. First we are told who the host is (verse 40), then who the guests are (verse49), the action that prompts the chief guests speech (in this case Simon’s unspoken action) and finally the speech of the chief guest, namely Jesus.

The setting is a meal that Jesus was invited to by a Pharisee named Simon. It must be assumed that Simon had developed some admiration or friendship with Jesus for table fellowship was shared with those that one was close to. There are others who point out that this setting in Luke is similar to a Hellenistic (Greek) symposium, an ancient genre in which a host invites guests to his home to dialogue about weighty abstract matters like love, friendship, or wisdom.

In such a setting, a woman who was a sinner in the city learns that Jesus is in Simon’s house. She obviously decides to gate crash this ‘dinner symposium’ but not with her lofty words or thoughts on love or friendship but with her simple but profound actions. She washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes it with her hair and anoints His feet with ointment which she has carried in an alabaster jar.

Simon’s dinner party which was supposed to be a lively discussion with Jesus is now stunned into silence by the action of this unnamed woman. But more than the silence in the room, the Gospel highlights the ‘silence’ in Simon’s heart. The ‘symposium setting’ of this meal would necessitate the participants to air their thoughts aloud and here was Simon who now “says to himself” or rather begins to doubt in his heart if Jesus was truly a prophet, for Jesus did not object to the woman’s action.

Jesus knowing the hearts of all men and women leads a ‘silent’ Simon once again into a dialogue by narrating a parable about two debtors, one of whom was forgiven more for he owed more to his master than the other. He ask Simon to answer a question, “which of them would love him more” to which Simon responds, ‘the one who whose debt was forgiven more’. In doing so Jesus opens Simon’s eyes to the reality of the shallowness of his love and hospitality as compared to the generosity of the sinner woman’s public actions of love. Her actions were louder than Simon’s words and Simon’s love for Jesus is weighed out in public and found lacking.

The Gospel of Luke makes clear from the start that Jesus has come for the marginalised and sinners. In a text prior to this one we are told that the opponents of Jesus viewed Him as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners”. This did not prevent Jesus from making greater inroads in the life of sinners and here is one, who now through a series of actions, repents at the feet of a man who has come to befriend sinners.

What is amazing is that not only does this sinner woman find a friend in Jesus, for he praises her actions in a room full of men but that she also finds forgiveness for her sins, something so hard for Simon and his friends to digest (pun intended considering they were at a meal)

In all of this I do hope the words of Jesus are not lost on us when he says to the woman, “your faith has saved you, go in peace.”  When Catholics make their confession they are given absolution, “their sins are forgiven” and they “go in peace”.  What we need to reflect on is that the woman also had faith in Jesus and He acknowledges that faith. It is faith that prompted her to so publically demonstrate her remorse, it is faith that drives her to the feet of Jesus (as we do at confession), it is in faith that she is forgiven and her faith brings her the peace that she desires.

Fr Warner D’Souza

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