“Do you see this woman?” How can you miss her! The question from Jesus to Simon the Pharisee strikes me as kind of funny. Is this sarcasm on his part?
This whole story has had as its focal point the actions of this woman that no one could miss! The vision is iconic. This woman at Jesus feet is breaking all kinds of boundaries and social taboos. She is not a guest! Her disruptive presence at this formal dinner draws attention. To what should I compare it?
Well, this woman at Jesus’ feet stands out in a similar way to the diner scene from “When Harry Met Sally.” You know the one to which I’m referring. It is charged with sexual energy. Sally fakes an orgasm and the whole diner is suddenly, uncomfortably aware of her presence. It is the “I’ll have what she’s having comic relief moment.
This is the kind of event we have in this Gospel, a scandalous iconic image with really no comic relief. This woman is breaking all kinds of boundaries, conventions, and rules. She is doing something that is uncomfortably intimate with Jesus. She has barged in on the dinner and has made herself the center of attention to the embarrassment of Simon, the host. All eyes appear to be on her, in one way or another. Some are undoubtedly outright gawking, some sneaking sideways glances trying to figure out what to make of it, make of her, trying to make sense of her actions, whispers in the corner, gasps around the room. Certainly Simon is doing that as he mutters to himself.
Everyone it appears is looking at the woman except Jesus, who is simply eating while she ministers to his feet, until this moment of Simon’s muttering to himself, when Jesus turns and looks at the woman we are told, and then asks Simon, “Do you see this woman?”
What kind of a question is that?
It think it is the calm and nonchalant demeanor of Jesus that catches me off guard here. “Do you see this woman?
We have this woman who is gushing over Jesus in all kinds of lavish responses. We know she is a sinner. We know that she has heard that Jesus is here, and that is why she comes all prepared to do this thing for him, and she kneels and weeps and wipes and anoints with expensive perfume. For a long time, I read this as her coming to Jesus wanting forgiveness, and doing all these extraordinary things in order to gain forgiveness from Jesus.
But that’s not what is going on, and we can tell that from the Jesus’ parable. “A certain creditor had two debtors, one owed 500 denarii, another 50. When they could not pay he cancelled the debts of both of them. Now, which of them will love him more?
Note as Jesus tells the parable it is not future oriented. The debts are cancelled already.
Now catch the way Simon answers, how nonchalantly Simon observes, “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.”
That is what prompts Jesus’ casual response . Do you see this woman? He is not at all surprised at the outpouring of actions by this woman. What Jesus is surprised at, is how Simon does not see her in the same way that he sees himself!
“Do you see this woman?” Jesus knows she has been forgiven much, and it is out of her effusive and unrestrained gratitude that she now lavishes her thanks on Jesus. In fact, her actions are suddenly cast by the parable in stark contrast to Simon’s actions, and his own expression of gratitude. Sure, he invited Jesus over to dinner, but he’s only done the bare minimums of hospitality. Simon’s own observation becomes commentary on his own actions. Which one will love him more?
“I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.” Simon says.
And it is at precise at that moment that Jesus says casually, “Do you see this woman?” Jesus is not referring just to her presence, but he’s pointing out to Simon the deeper reality present in her actions. Do you see her actions in a new way?
Here’s the thing, I am way too guilty of being like Simon. I’m a reasonably nice guy. I try to keep my nose clean. I have some faults. I know Jesus has forgiven me. I live in that assurance and so I also have a tendency to get kind of casual about that. I go to church, throw a few dollars in the plate, say “nice sermon pastor” and walk back out not really all that moved by the whole experience because I figure Jesus hasn’t had to do a whole lot in the way of forgiving me.
I’m a Simon.
I do not really see this woman; see what is happening in her, it is all foreign to me. Because I am a Simon, I sometime lose touch with what the encounter with Jesus can and will do, should do when we recognize what God in Christ Jesus has done for us.
I’m pretty sure in Colorado Springs and Royal Gorge today there will be people gathering for worship whose houses are gone, and some whose houses have been spared, and for some there will be effusive praise of God for having been shown mercy from the flames, and for others there will be deep sense of gratitude that although everything they own is gone, they are still alive. If you have had a brush with death, your perspective will change. In those communities if people are weeping this morning, or taking love offerings that overflow the basket to help one another, that kind of extravagant outpouring or action will not be seen as unusual, or draw much attention.
I’m pretty sure that in any gathering, even in the church, there are people who would be ready to weep at the feet of Jesus for the mercy that has been shown to them. There are also a lot of Simons, who with their jaundiced eye can only see the latest impropriety by this person, or that policy, or those actions.
Simon is so easy to fall into.
“If Jesus knew what you were up to, he wouldn’t want anything to do with you….” Simon thinks…..we sometimes think…
I confess to you my brothers and sisters that I sometimes get far too caught up in policy, procedure, propriety and property. I sometimes, like Simon, lose sight of the kind of life transforming experience it can be to realize that I have been forgiven much. I treat forgiveness like a casual thing. I treat Jesus’ living presence in this assembly, in this church, in this community, in this world as if he is my guest enjoying my hospitality instead of it being the other way around. I have nothing that has not been given to me as free gift from God.
I confess that when I have this all too casual understanding of the presence of God, I often find myself engaging in judging the actions, motivations, or abilities of others. I, like Simon, find myself looking down my nose at the exuberance of others in their faith.
Or, I question their sincerity.
Or, I wonder what’s really behind their actions. I dismiss the fact that maybe, just maybe they are down on their knees, weeping and giving extravagantly thankful for what Jesus has already given them.
And when that thought does occur to me, then I wonder why I’m not like her.
Do you see this woman?
That is where you ought to be Simon.
That’s where I ought to be, willing to serve without recognition, willing to give my best, not caring what others think, and grateful, so incredibly grateful for what God has done for me, for us, and for this world that I cannot help but kneel at the feet of Jesus in thanksgiving.
I confess to you my brothers and sisters that I am sick to death of the bickering, back-sniping, snide comments made about others that seems to pervade our world, our politics, our larger church expression and yes, even our local congregations. There are days that I wonder why it is that God doesn’t just wipe us off the map, not leave one brick standing on another, and bring us to our knees so that our mouths will be silenced and our hearts will cleansed of the worm that seems to perpetually eat at us.
And, it is then that I am grateful for that casual, calm voice of Jesus that says, “Do you see this woman?”
And in the pregnant pause that follows, I imagine Jesus smiling down at her, and her smiling back up at him, and Simon watching it all, and maybe as he listens to Jesus explain his own shortcomings, beginning to realize that he can join her.
“Who is this, who even forgives sins?” Even my sins of my own arrogance, judgment of others, pride, envy, fear, greed, cynicism, and privilege, …all those things that I too often consider to be no big deal, a little thing to forgive, but the very things that really are keeping me from joining this gratitude filled woman at the feet of Jesus.
“Do you see this woman?”
Do you see yourself in Simon?
Do you see yourself in this story?
Do you see where you would rather be?