Thursday, October 25, 2007


One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was sitting at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 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. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner. '

And he said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'

Rejoice in the Lord always.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

(Luke 7:36-39; Luke 7:50; Philippians 4:4; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Romans 15:7 -- all RSV)

The Woman

'A woman of the city... a sinner' did not have a home in suburbia. Her life was rough; she did not always have a lock on her door. Her body was her asset, and sex paid better than a kitchen. She was admired in a fashion, as a body with a price. Sometimes she was used and not paid and that was a double blow to her diminished sense of self-worth.

She tried not to think of her past -- the aches and the cold and the acquaintances who never quite became friends. There was no point in thinking of the future for days never went as planned.

Jesus was different. He did not size her up. He did not expect her to perform. He did not condemn her. He accepted her as she was.

She gave herself totally to him; not a giving as she gave to the men who paid her. She wept. No barriers. A release of feeling, of anger, of frustration, of joy poured over his feet. And she wiped his feet with her hair, not pausing to consider -- for to expose your hair like that then would be like removing your bra and using that as a towel now. She made full use of her body, but in such a different way.

Where did she get that expensive flask of ointment? Best not to ask. A whole flask. No token action, but all she had. As always, she traded past end future for the present.

Her confession was total. Not in words, for in her experience words were empty. But in action, with her whole life -- tears, hair, ointment.

But doesn't forgiveness depend on repentance?, And what did she say that showed faith?. The depth of her turning was that she staked everything on his acceptance; for even her city reputation now would be tarnished. Her fragmented self at last was touched in a way that began a healing, and she could go in peace.

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual.

Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations

In a non-threatening atmosphere where there is warmth and acceptance and someone to receive what/we have to give, creativity begins to flow.

Elizabeth O'Connor, Eighth Day of Creation

You touched me and I burned for your peace.

Augustine, Confessions

It is not the love of the woman that brings her forgiveness, but it is the forgiveness she has received that creates her love. By her love she shows that much has been forgiven her, while the lack of love of the Pharisee shows that little has been forgiven him.

Paul Tillich, The New Being

Simon the Pharisee

Simon was an educated man with a home and a sound position in the established order. He was interested in Jesus -- only professionally, of course. Really a favour to have such an itinerant teacher home for lunch.

Could have interviewed him at the office, but sometimes the home atmosphere can put these types at ease. Amazing how a feed and a few glasses can loosen the tongue. Don't overdo it though; no washing the feet or kiss of peace as a real guest might expect. Show my hospitality and my broadmindedness and pick up ideas he might have.

Then this prostitute came in. I was embarrassed, but Jesus did not mind at all. He just let her go on and on. I thought, 'You're a lecher or a fool. No prophet would let her get close and allow her to carry on like that.' he tried to carry it off with an aphorism or two, but now I had his measure.

In the traditional Christian view, the Pharisees have become representatives of everything evil, but in their time they were the pious and morally zealous ones. Their conflict with Jesus was not simply a conflict between right and wrong; it was, above all, the conflict between an old and sacred tradition and a new reality which was breaking into it and depriving it of ultimate significance.

Paul Tillich, The New Being

The burden he [Jesus] wants to take from us is the burden of religion. It is the yoke of the law, imposed on the people of his time by the religious teachers...

Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations

We withdrew after the rector of the day declared it sinful to guess the number of beans in a jar at the annual church fete.

Patrick White, describing why he left a church in Flaws in the Glass


Jesus accepted Simon's invitation. He noticed the social snubs and observed how Simon did not want to meet him in a personal fashion but sized him up -- role 'A' assessing exhibit 'B'. He knew well enough how the woman felt on that score.

As she reached towards him in a desperate, awkward, overdone, extravagant and total bid for recognition as a person, he allowed her -- and freed her -- to do so.

The Pharisee was offended, bottled up. So Jesus dealt with him gently and verbally. Simon had too much to lose to respond from within and so he replied cautiously. Concerned primarily about a theological point, Simon and his colleagues missed completely one of the warmest and deepest turnings to God.

What may appear as indifference to religion in our culture may, in fact, represent a concern to get at a more basic Christianity.

Veronica Brady, A Crucible of Prophets

Jesus did not seem to be the person they had told me about. He was more ironic for one thing; ruder for another. He appeared to have a major preoccupation; he did not like people who thought they knew what life and love was all about, but he liked the ones who had made a mess of things, who had given up the struggle and just did the best they could. Goodness was not what he went for. Brokenness was.

Laura's impression on reading the Gospels, in Monica Furlong's novel, Cousins

The church should be celebrating and giving so much that it draws people to him [Jesus]. I think the church should be an example and not a judgment seat.

Noel Paul Stookey, interviewed in On Being

No matter what danger enthusiasm may have brought to the church, the final defeat of enthusiasm has always signalised the sleeping church, even the busiest one... There is no Christian freedom without a dose of enthusiasm; and today/,,, after long abstention, that dose ought to be generous rather than meagre, even if the result should be slight intoxication.

Ernst Kasemann, Jesus Means Freedom

The community which is filled with different energies of Christ's liberating power is therefore not an exclusive community of the saved, but the initial and inclusive materialisation of the world freed by the risen Christ.

Jurgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit

Father, I see in Jesus someone different. Centred in you. He drew out all the woman was wanting to give and he gently probed Simon’s brittle veneer. A centre in you; that is your gift. I sense it sometimes, at least in part. You give good gifts and I should like more of that one, a gift that somehow enables others also to share in the gift.

Lord Jesus, I am under pressure to be sound and orderly and a company person. I get strokes for that. And its safe, secure. But something inside me shrivels. You never operated that way, and your people never have thrived that way. I push away the turmoil; help me to accept it. I try to plan; help me to accept the people and events that tumble in, and to know the wholeness that is your peace.

You are here with me, Spirit of the living God. You encourage me to live in the freedom that is the logo of your presence. There are no 'proper' ways to celebrate your freedom. Your freedom area is large and inviting, so 1'11 celebrate in the ways you open to me.

A Benediction

'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid,' said Jesus (John 14:27, RSV).

Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 224-228

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