In Luke 7:36-8:3, Jesus teaches us about owning up to our sins, forgiveness, and faith. We also learn a little bit about the place women held in Jesus’ ministry.
A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him,
and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.
Now there was a sinful woman in the city
who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee.
Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment,
she stood behind him at his feet weeping
and began to bathe his feet with her tears.
Then she wiped them with her hair,
kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself,
“If this man were a prophet,
he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him,
that she is a sinner.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people were in debt to a certain creditor;
one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty.
Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both.
Which of them will love him more?”
Simon said in reply,
“The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”
He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon,
“Do you see this woman?
When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet,
but she has bathed them with her tears
and wiped them with her hair.
You did not give me a kiss,
but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered.
You did not anoint my head with oil,
but she anointed my feet with ointment.
So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven
because she has shown great love.
But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.“
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The others at table said to themselves,
“Who is this who even forgives sins?”
But he said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Afterward he journeyed from one town and village to another,
preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.
Accompanying him were the Twelve
and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities,
Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,
Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza,
Susanna, and many others who provided for them
out of their resources.
In this narrative from Luke, the Pharisee and his guests might be forgiven for thinking it strange that Jesus was allowing a known sinner to attend to Him. A sinner! After all, weren’t they themselves righteous and without sin? But Jesus turns the tables on them. He knows she is a sinner and He knows the Pharisee and his guests are sinners, too. And He knows that she has repented of her sins while they have not — they haven’t even acknowledged their sins. What’s more, she a sinner has washed His feet – with her tears, and dried His feet – with her hair, yet the Pharisee did none of these things. She is a sinner but Jesus tells her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
The Pharisee and his guests do not acknowledge Jesus for who He is. The woman does. It’s her faith and her humble acts that save her. Nor do the Pharisee and his guests acknowledge their sins but rather focus on her sins, putting themselves above her.
If you are going to be forgiven must you not acknowledge your sins? Must you not humble yourself before God, whom you have offended? And when you are forgiven, must you not show God your respect and gratitude and love? That’s just what this woman was doing, while the Pharisee and his guests were not.
Which leads us to the line of scripture I highlighted today: “the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” The self-righteous, the overly pious for public display, those who lord their piety over others they presume to be the greater sinner have little love save for themselves. They hold onto and administer God’s laws fiercely for others to obey while failing to follow God’s most important law: to love God and to love others. Who knows which other of God’s laws they fail to obey in secret. And Jesus chastises them over and over again in scripture. Who today is a modern-day Pharisee?
The other thing I want to point out is the role women played in Jesus’ ministry, which is described in the last portion of this reading. This is a time of great change in the Catholic Church because Pope Francis has begun to elevate the role of women in church leadership, much to the consternation of many church conservatives. But here is part of the basis for it. Women were heavily involved in Jesus’ ministry even as He lived among us. Their activities weren’t described in detail and they aren’t named among “the apostles,” yet they were active and disciples none-the-less.
Mary Magdelene has just been given her own feast day. Thank you Pope Francis for acknowledging her special role as an active disciple of our Lord Jesus the Christ, whom some call “the apostle of the apostles.”