Today we are reading one of the passages suggested by the Lectionary for June 13th. It is a beautiful Gospel story and one that prompts so many thoughts and questions as well. It is so graphical but at the same time completely unfamiliar to us. Even in today’s sexually driven society, the image of a woman publicly playing with her hair, kissing and rubbing a man’s feet with perfumed oil, sounds so distant and strange that it makes it hard to mentally recreate the event. Yet, it is continuously used as metaphor, to describe how lavish and intimate our worship to God should be. I guess that the extravagancy and boldness of the act is what calls our attention, for even in New Testament times such public display of passion was not common either.
For several years I had the opportunity to minister to support communities of people dealing with relational and sexual conflicts of various kinds. One of the things that marveled me during our meetings was the intimate, grateful and sometimes extravagant way of expressing their love to God in worship. I got to know all of these men and women, I listened to their stories, where they came from as well as their traumas and struggles, but through their expressive worship I had to learn to see these people in a whole different way. I had to learn to see them with Jesus’ eyes not mine. Why fix my eyes in the sins, struggles, falls, temptations they faced and overlook what the Lord had already done in their lives? Was I so proud and self-righteous to see myself as superior to them because my sins had been less scandalous? What if I had I had just kept my struggles in hiding? Who was I then to judge and dictate how they were going to live, express their love and decide about the course of their spiritual life? Worshiping with them was a truly transforming experience to me in how I had to see myself and other people through the lenses of grace.
Just as I had these experiences with “sinners” of the worst kind, according to respectable Christians, Simon had his chance of being transformed while witnessing the bold act of that well-known woman who had crossed the hallways of his home just to come at the feet of Jesus. Instead Simon keeps his vision crippled, his sight limited because the only thing he can imagine and recreate in his mind are the known sins of that woman and how impure she might be. Sadly, in his mental dialog he fails to see the real Jesus, revealed by the emotional behavior of the woman and by his welcoming attitude. For him, a real prophet should know about other people’s lives and would seek purity at all times (V. 39); definitively, this man that he had invited to his home was just a fake, someone who clearly could not recognize sin and sinners.
Only a few verses above this passage, even John the Baptist questions himself and even dare to doubt about Jesus (v. 19). I guess we can always do that. This is no scandal for Jesus; he knows quite well that we always go through this process in building up our faith. But he requires that at the end of our questioning we “see” what he is doing and recognize his presence (even feel him like Thomas). That is what he tells John’s messengers: “go back to him and tell what you have seen and heard.” Blinds were recovering their sight, paralytics were walking, the sick healed, dead raised from their tombs, and the good news were being preached to the poor and the marginalized of those times. These things were happening right there and they were in the right place and time to “see” them, no matter how scandalous, structure shaking or threatening they might be to the religious status quo.
In that house, probably full of guests, a hostile Simon is blindfolded by his religious mindset. He just sees a sensual display by a woman over a man. The gospel says that she was a well-known sinner in town. She had a past, and for most male interpreters of the passage she was a sexual worker. The erotic overtones of the offering of perfume and the shameless untying of her hair make things even worst. We get blindfolded again. With some natural curiosity, our mind goes back to ponder about the extension of her sexual sin. At this point we do not see the new woman or the Jesus that is revealing himself through her. We only see the sexual sin. We overlook the tears and the grieving to paint an image of a sexy and fancy woman seducing our Jesus. Much less we can sense the gratitude in her acts because we cannot imagine that all sins have been forgiven to her. That is why she loves so much, why she expresses herself in such extravagant way, why she needs to declare her gratefulness to Jesus. We need to have eye surgery.
“Do you see this woman Fernando?” “Do you see this man?” “Are we able to see the human being above the sin, conflict, condition, disorder, gender, race, economic condition, nationality or whatever?” Those are the questions that this passage triggers. Simon was unable to see in spite of being a well-known religious leader. But he belongs to those that act as spoiled children (v. 31) that complain for everything, whose insensitivity denies the evidence of Jesus and their manipulations seek to destroy him. One thing is certain from this passage; Jesus is always on the side of the sinner. He defends the woman from the destructive pharisaic attitude of Simon, even before he openly expressed it. As in many instances with the Pharisees, Jesus seems to read their minds; he knows their intentions, their ideas, and how insensitive they are to the work of God. Being religious, pure, or claiming to be with Jesus is not enough to be able to “see”.
I think that a good test of our spiritual growth is when we start seeing Jesus in other people’s lives. Mother Theresa used to say that before going out to the streets in Calcutta they would pray that they could find Jesus, “see Jesus”, in those that they were going to minister. We took this as a model and we started to pray in order to find Jesus among those with whom we worshipped together in the support communities. We started to understand the nature of forgiveness. We started to “see” the person beyond the sins, the newfound peace in his or her life, the joy that was exuberantly poured out and, as a result, we freely joined them in their worship.