The gospel of Luke is written with a Gentile or Greek-speaking cultured people in mind. To them the author writes an account, composed using eyewitness accounts, of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As Jesus has continued to teach and heal, he has frequently defied people’s expectations about how a holy man behaves. He has healed on the Sabbath, he has called tax collectors to follow him, and he has healed foreigners. While many religious leaders have rejected Jesus, Simon the Pharisee is sufficiently impressed with Jesus to invite him to dinner. But Simon finds his understanding of hospitality and holiness challenged as he opens his doors and welcomes Jesus into his home.
The notion of faith and piety in the day of Jesus was tied with the Hebrew Scriptures which talked of how God dwelt among the chosen people. First in the tabernacle, then the Temple, and also in their daily lives. If God is sacred, holy and righteous, then God can only dwell among those who are holy and righteous. Maintaining that relational proximity required the people to keep kosher, abstaining from contact with defiled or unrighteous things and people, such as contact with the dead, those inflicted with skin diseases (like leprosy) and those who defiled the ways of God by their actions or disbelief (tax collectors, prostitutes, and Gentiles).
Simon, a Pharisee, belongs to the religious group which placed particular emphasis on obeying to the extreme all of the Torah law in the Hebrew Scriptures. Ironically it’s that obedience which seems to blind him. Jesus talks most about love in his words. Pointing to the radical gesture of the unnamed woman who anoints his feet (a sign of respect and devotion, and maybe repentance) with an ointment which most likely was her prized possession in life. Jesus tells a parable to Simon and the others involved in the conversation around the table about debts and forgiveness (a metaphor regularly associated with sin and grace).
The story is not hard to follow, or is the point Jesus makes hidden. What’s striking is how Simon, who seems to be so right-on-track is so blind to his own spiritual blindness. Often when we love someone we expect them to automatically know everything we think or want. That’s not realistic. It’s what we grow through in love as we learn to speak our hearts and hear those of the ones we love. Jesus seems to know those thoughts in both Simon and the woman, even though Simon can’t admit it to himself and the woman cannot say it aloud, looking Jesus in the eyes.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
- What strikes you in this passage? How does it interact with your life today, the questions you have, the issues you’re facing?
- How could Simon be so blind to the need of the woman? How do you not see those in need around you? Who are they?
- The woman is healed in and by her faith, sent off in the peace of Christ – the wholeness of his love. How do you need his peace?