7 May 2012

Luke 7:36-50

"If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him - that she is a sinner." (v. 39)


I am very fortunate that I have had opportunity to meet and mix with many types of people from those with severe learning and physical difficulties to those who have their names in the popular press and earn financial rewards to match their fame. And from each one I have been able to learn more about being human and about attitudes and behaviour.

Today's passage brings us face to face with a whole series of social attitudes, behavior, expectations and with prejudice.

Simon, we are told, is a Pharisee,: a man committed to knowing and understanding the Law and living his life to those rules and regulations set down in the Law. (The Law as given to Moses by God in the ten commandments on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17) and all the plethora of little rules and regulations attached to the larger, broad sweep of this Law by teachers and leaders along the way down to even what food could be eaten together and how a basin should be washed.)

He would have been seen as a respected man in the local town and the right person to invite Jesus to dine with him. Custom dictated that a guest would be greeted with clean water to wash the dust from the roads off their feet and hands before eating and sometimes ointment was also offered for the comfort of the guest. This story tells us that Simon omits to offer such a welcome.

Dining was undertaken in a semi-reclined style on chaise longue type seating around a low table. And frequently the space around a dining area would be filled with curious onlookers keen to listen to the conversation, especially if the guests were people of note.

So Jesus is served and conversation is underway when a woman arrives. Kneeling she washes his feet with her tears, anoints them with scented oil and wipes them with her hair.

Respectable is not a word that would have been used to describe her! A woman with loose hair, as hers appears to be, without being held by a veil or covering would have marked her out as a woman of low morals. Luke even suggests that this woman has been working as a prostitute. Such a woman would not have been welcome in the home of a respectable man like Simon!

Simon's thinking gives him away as he condemns her on sight and criticises Jesus into the bargain! He clearly feels that Jesus should send her away - and the sooner the better! But Jesus has other plans. He speaks of those who have experienced a life of debt, of those who can imprison the debtors or release them to a fresh start - debt free.

His intimation is that Simon does not see himself as a debtor in need of freedom. But the woman has understood her own life in such a way that she knows herself to be a debtor in need of release.

Jesus offers the release.

Consider the people around you: the elderly who feel that they have nothing more to give; the harassed family with no time to do more than work to put food on the table; the person coping with depression or other health problems and those who care for them; the young child with physical and learning difficulties and their family.

There are so many people around that society would be very quick to send to the rubbish tip and condemn out of hand and yet they are human beings, loved by God and worthy of our support and caring compassion.

We are the ones who can offer release through acceptance and an openness to learning from them - but how willing (or unwilling) are we to spend the time and effort such a manner of living requires?

To Ponder

  • What people do you encounter in your everyday life that you see without noticing or paying any regard to?
  • How do you think you are seen by others and how do you assess others and create your opinion of them?
  • Who are the people you meet who offer you the opportunity to learn about acceptance simply as you are?

Bible notes author

The Revd Una McLean

Una is a Methodist minister currently working in North Wales. Before becoming a minister she worked as an occupational therapist for 20 years in fields as varied as elderly care, adult mental health and paediatrics.