Proper 6 • Luke 7:36–8:3 • June 12, 2016
By Anthony Cook
“If this man were a prophet, he would have known.” Simon’s statement implies that if Jesus were a true prophet he would know about the sinful lifestyle of the woman who was anointing him and refuse her expression of love. Simon was not only assuming how a prophet would respond, but also assuming that Jesus must not be a prophet because he did not act according to Simon’s definition.
The irony of this passage is that it is precisely because Jesus is the True Prophet that he allowed the woman to approach and anoint him with tears and ointment. This misunderstanding of Jesus’s identity prompts a parable from Jesus and a corrective rebuke of Simon.
Jesus, in the parable that follows, illustrates that the woman’s expression of love was in direct proportion to her canceled debt of sin. She who is forgiven much, loves much and he who is forgiven little, loves little. Comparing the hospitality that Jesus received from Simon to the outpouring of gratefulness from the sinful woman, Jesus makes a convicting observation. Unlike the loving and faith-filled response of the woman, Simon failed to show Jesus the simplest of common hospitality—no water for Jesus’s dusty feet nor kiss of greeting. But the woman used her tears to wash her master’s feet and her hair to dry them. And in place of the absent kiss, the woman kissed Jesus’s feet repeatedly as she prepared to anoint them with oil.
In the narrative that follows the parable, we are once again shown the dedication and love of grateful women. Those who had been healed of evil spirits and illnesses followed Jesus and supported Jesus and his disciples financially in order that they might continue their ministry. The elevation of the women in this text as a greater expression of love for Jesus and his forgiveness cannot be overlooked. Their recognition of their need for Jesus and of who Jesus was and what he graciously provided is a lesson not only for Simon, but for all who read this text.
Homiletically, one might take many approaches to this text. The most obvious approach would emphasize that our love toward Jesus is based on what he has done for us in his atoning death on the cross; that Jesus has the power to forgive as illustrated in the text as a whole and specifically in verses 48–50; and the importance of recognizing the depth of our forgiveness in Christ through an honest and non-pharisaical appraisal to our sin.
Another approach would be to acknowledge women as exemplars of faith and patrons of the early church within Scripture. Their willingness to honestly reflect on their need for Jesus and their openness to expressing their gratitude through loving devotion is something that men can struggle with in light of the common stereotypes of masculinity in American society. It is important, however, that this approach not be used as a form of gender bashing, but as a reminder that for many men, humility, expressions of love, and honest self-reflection can be a challenge. The goal is not to promote a feminine approach, but a Christian one. The goal is to help the listener reflect on the debt of sin forgiven by Christ in order to anchor actions toward him in a grateful and loving response to the forgiveness he willingly won for all. Accordingly, the anointing by the sinful—or perhaps more aptly named—grateful woman can be seen as an anointing ultimately for his death.
In this text, we see the willingness of Jesus to embrace those considered the greatest of sinners as well as to correct those seen as society’s leaders. Sin and our need for forgiveness is the great leveler where men of privilege stand next to women of ill repute, both in need of the very same thing—Jesus and his forgiveness.