“36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.” (Luke 7)
Ta-Dah! The violent taking the Kingdom by force! Was this woman invited? A woman? A sinner? To a pharisee’s home? Are you kidding? She is unclean! She is impure. No doubt our Pharisee, later named Simon, is thinking he is going to have to fumigate the whole place once this Jesus takes his rabble elsewhere! He most likely only suffers her presence for the sake of his guest. An odd concession since he has made no effort, beyond feeding him, to welcome Jesus into his home as yet. Again we’re reminded of Jesus’ warning in Luke 13, “26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’” You can have Jesus in your home and still not have him in your heart!
But the woman. We were talking about the woman. Look at her. I’m sure everyone in the room that day was. Even those affecting to ignore her. She is only named as a sinner. What is her sin? We don’t know. Simon knew. Apparently her reputation preceded her. Small town. Everyone knows everyone else’s business. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, she feels the judging eyes all the time. There is no anonymity. There is no relief. There is no forgiveness. The best she can do is hide herself from them so as not to feel. Maybe she drinks to numb the pain. Maybe she indulges in sex to feel loved, even for a moment. All the while, adding to her guilt in their eyes. Adding to her shame. We don’t know but we probably know many like her. We might even know exactly what she feels ourselves.
Our modern culture knows. We understand feelings of shame and guilt… and we have worked hard to abolish both. No one, we have decreed, should feel judged by anyone. How can this be accomplished? By making everything anyone wants to do, perfectly acceptable. Remove the moral standard or at least, lower it until it is meaningless and all can hold their heads up in pride. You are the soul arbiter of right and wrong for you. No one can or should or has the right to judge you. It sounds lovely. It sounds like Utopia. So much so it has even crept its way into the church. There is a strong resistance to God as Judge now. Universalism is taking root. There’s only one problem with it.
It’s a lie.
It’s like saying you can fly because you deny the law of gravity. Like saying you are a cat because you believe you are a cat. You can toss off clothes and bathe yourself with your tongue. You can annoy your friends by speaking exclusively in meows and purrs. You can even poop in a litter box but you are still just a person pretending to be a cat. And we are now a culture pretending to be guiltless.
And we know it. There is a standard. It exists apart from us and would be there even if there were no humans to think of it. There could be no such thing as moral indignation without it. And yet, when something heinous happens, we all feel it. Instantly. It’s not taught. It’s not learned. It’s innate. We know instinctively what is fair and what isn’t. We know there are things that are inherently “right” like sharing and hugs and M&M’s and we know there are things that are inherently “wrong” like hatecrime and kicking puppies and political ads. Heck, we have words like “heinous” just because it’s there! It’s the reason why those who believe most strongly that there shouldn’t be a universal moral code to judge by get so angry when one says there is! The only thing you’re allowed to judge someone for is judging!
The Jews in Jesus’ day had no problem with such questions however. They had the Law of God and they believed it. Some, like our buddy Simon, actually had the opposite problem. In their pride, they not only thought they could do God one better by fencing the Law in even further, some thought they could actually keep it! Some actually believed they could achieve the holiness of God!
Some however knew better. The woman in Luke 7 is such a one. She is not ill. She is not lame or blind or deaf or demon possessed that we know of. She does not come on behalf of a child or husband or sibling or parent who is. She comes for healing yes. But not for her body. She comes to be healed in her soul.
The purpose of the Law was to show us holiness. True holiness. This should have left us in tears! For if even Moses could not look on the face of God then what hope did we have? We only inhabit these bodies for under a hundred years. What is that to eternity? If dying removes the veil between God and us then we are undone and the best we could hope for is to be buried in the earth and hidden from His sight! Simon the Pharisee doesn’t get this. The disciples with Jesus usually don’t get this though Peter came close on his boat one day. Here in Luke 7 we’ve seen a Gentile Centurion who did and we’ve seen the compassion of Jesus to the widow.
Here, our sinful woman puts the two together. She sees her sin. She sees God’s Holiness. She knows the great gulf between them. She senses it as a black abyss separating her from all she’s wasted her life to find.
And she sees Jesus.
She sees his mercy, his compassion, his worthiness. By her act of anointing him with ointment, she calls him Christ, the ‘anointed one.’ Not just a messiah, but The Messiah! The one who can save her from the chasm, from the dreadful separation! The one who can forgive sins! She does not wait. She does not hide. She does not preserve her dignity. She barges in where she is not welcome! She serves him in the most menial way possible, humbling herself to the dust in front of everyone! Wasting not even her tears! This is not religion. This is not pride or denial. This is not rite or ritual. This is not waiting for God’s grace on your terms. This is violent faith! This is vehement love! This is the only proper response to Jesus! This is the Way.