“Simon, ‘Do you see this woman?’” Jesus is not calling Simon’s attention to this woman. She has already done that. Her tears, her hair, her kisses, her touching, her anointing. Simon, no doubt, has been watching her. He has seen her. That’s not Jesus’ question. Jesus wants to know if Simon understands. Does he know what the woman knows? Does he understand the meaning behind her actions? Is he as free as the woman is?
“I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.” (From Luke 7:36-8:3, Proper 6C)
It would be easy to hear Jesus’ words as praise for the woman and an indictment of Simon, acceptance of one and rejection of the other. I don’t think that is what Jesus is doing. To hear his words in that way is to make Jesus just like Simon. That’s not who or how Jesus is.
Jesus is simply stating the stating the obvious. It’s a statement of fact not a judgment. “Simon, this is what you did not do. This is what the woman did.” Jesus is teaching Simon and us. He juxtaposes the images of Simon and the woman as two ways of being. They are images not just of Simon and the woman, but of ourselves. We live on a continuum between Simon, on one end, and the woman, on the other. I know times in my life when I have been Simon and I know times in my life when I have been the woman. I have been and am both, most of us are.
We are like Simon when:
- We become rigid, narrow, and codify life;
- We see rules, norms, and beliefs as more important than people;
- We expect Jesus to see, think, and act like us;
- We pretend to be someone we are not;
- We have a need to be seen by others in a particular way;
- We judge, exclude, or diminish another;
- We are sure that we are right and others are wrong;
- We are excessively confident of and arrogant about our place and position.
Whenever we are like Simon our life has hardened and closed. We offer no water, no kiss, no oil. At those times we are neither present nor available to the fullness of life that is always before us.
We are like the woman when:
- We do not allow our life to be determined by the judgments of others or ourselves;
- We let go of perfectionism and the need for the approval of others;
- We orient our life to see, think, and act like Jesus;
- We love without reserve or holding back;
- We live without pretense;
- We have no need to be right, in control, or the winner;
- We are willing to change and grow;
- We are vulnerable, authentic, and transparent.
Whenever we are like the woman our life has softened and opened. Our tears return us to the baptismal waters of new life. Righteousness and peace meet in our kisses (Ps. 85:10). We break open the alabaster jars of our life, offering all that we are and all that we have. At those times we are free to be fully alive and fully present to the life that is before us. We are no longer bound by the past. We are free to go in peace. That’s the essential difference between this woman and Simon. She is free but he is captive.
The woman sees a life to which Simon is blind. She see a life greater than she could ever create or acquire for herself. That life is personified by, revealed in, and made available through Jesus. It cannot be possessed only received. We open and make ourselves available to this new life. We don’t get up each morning and decide, “Today I will be Simon and tomorrow I will be the woman.” We don’t chose to be Simon with some and the woman with others.
Simon and the woman in some way orient our lives in a particular direction shaping who we are and how relate to others and ourselves. It is less a choice and more a change in consciousness. It is a whole new way of being and it is grounded in forgiveness, the freedom to be fully alive, fully present, fully myself. Forgiveness is “the freedom that enables us to transcend ourselves in love” (Clement, On Human Being, 101).
The difficulty is that we approach forgiveness psychologically. We associate it with our past or the past of another. We remember experiences, words, actions, and feelings of the past. We make them concrete, the defining characteristics and identity of ourselves or another, and then project that past as a future reality. In so doing we set boundaries and limits for what can and cannot be. That’s what Simon has done. He knows this woman’s past, that she is a woman of the city, a sinner. That’s how he sees her today. It’s how he will see her tomorrow and the day after.
The woman knows that history as well, all too well. But something has changed, shifted, come alive in her. It’s as if she says, “Not today. Never again.” In the presence of Christ she refuses to be bound by the past; the feelings, the failings, the stares, the thoughts, the reputation, the voices; the judgments. A new life and a new existence flow and pour forth from this woman.
The freedom Christ offers in forgiveness is not simply the chance to make another choice, a better choice, to do differently. It is the freedom to be different, to no longer be bound by the past. In some way that’s what all the signs, miracles, and teachings of Jesus are about. It is in the stories of healing, exorcisms, and raising from the dead. Every one of those is about freedom and release. It is what the sacrament of reconciliation and the season of Lent are about. It’s why we confess every week. This freedom is the movement “out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life” (Book of Common Prayer, 368).
It is for everyone; you, me, the woman, Simon. “Your sins are forgiven…. Go in peace.”