Your Daily Lenten Devotional
March 5, 2012
Into the Wilderness
Do You See?
The setting opens innocently enough. A Pharisee named Simon invites Jesus into his home for dinner. Or perhaps it’s not so innocent. Table fellowship has become one of the sticking points between some religious leaders, including some Pharisees and Jesus. Should Jesus sit down with a would-be opponent? Refusing to eat with those who have strict rules against dining with sinners might leave Jesus open to the charge of practicing a reverse prejudice…
…The dinner party goes haywire from the outset. The reason? Architecture starts it. Seriously. Few homes then have doors with locks. If the evening’s warmth or the cooking fire’s smoke congests the air in the room, the doors will be left wide open to the street—open for the breeze and who knows what else to blow in. The text records Jesus’ taking his place at table. That doesn’t mean he pulls up a chair and sits. Custom dictates reclining for the meal. So picture the scene: door wide open to the thoroughfare, host and guests reclining around a table. And then it happens. That is, she happens. What her name is, the text gives no clue. What her identity is: well, the euphemism used is “a woman in the city.” From that, many identify the woman as a prostitute, though the text does not make that explicit a charge. The woman, victimized by her reputation in this town as a sinner, tends to suffer from the between-the-lines implications of the text as well. The intricate way Luke weaves this story entices us to make the same assumption of gossip that pilloried her in the first place. Maybe Luke does that to remind us just how pernicious and enduring gossip can be.
From this point forward the woman dominates the dinner party. Jesus’ reclining at the table makes it much easier to visualize her ensuing actions: bathing his feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, kissing his feet and anointing them with oil. Her actions disgust Simon. Polite host that he is, he keeps his thoughts about Jesus’ unprophetic behavior to himself.
Jesus does not. His thoughts take the form of this parable. Two debtors owe money to a creditor: one debt equals almost two months’ pay, the other closer to one and a half years’ wages. Neither person can pay the debt. But the creditor cancels the debts. So who, Jesus asks, will love the creditor more?
Jesus makes an odd connection. You’d have thought Jesus would have asked, “Who will be more grateful?” Or, “who will feel more indebted?” But for some reason, neither gratitude nor IOUs interest Jesus. “Which of them will love him more?” Simon mouths the right answer. “I suppose…”
“I suppose” does not exactly convey conviction. So Jesus comes at Simon from a different direction. “Then turning toward the woman, [Jesus] said to Simon,” “Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks. This is one way to avoid persons and situations that cause us discomfort. We just don’t see them. If homeless folk trouble us, don’t look at them. If conflicts in families or churches distress us, don’t acknowledge them. But the world doesn’t work like it did when we were three or four years old. Then we could squeeze our eyes shut and what we didn’t want to see would disappear. Not anymore. “Do you see this woman?”
Jesus insists that Simon see her, because she answers the parable’s question of who loves more. She, more than Simon, has proved hospitable. A good host provides water for the washing of the guest’s feet, soiled and worn from traversing roads of dirt and rock in sandals. But Simon provided no water. A good host greets the guest with a kiss of friendship. But Simon offered no kiss. A good host brings oil to soothe the guest’s head and hair from the burn of sun and drying of wind. But Simon provided no oil.
For every act of hospitality that Simon neglected, Jesus looks at this woman and says to Simon, do you see her? Do you want to see forgiveness embodied in love, because here it is. Here she is. “Which of them will love more?” the parable asks. And Jesus’ answer? “Do you see this woman?”
Jesus has an odd way of making heroes out of the most unlikely of characters. Samaritans, parents who forgive prodigals-and here, an unnamed woman whose utterly humble actions show love’s origins not in moral certitude or religious acumen but in forgiveness. A self-righteous Simon forgot about hospitality. The church might take note there of what happens when we forget to make ourselves and our communities hospitable places to those whose need of forgiveness simply reminds us of our own. The church might also take note of what happens when forgiveness unleashes love.
“Do you see this woman?”
O God, grant me eyes and spirit that open to your grace and to the ones you grace, that I may learn from them and from your forgiveness bound together in love. Amen.
Whom do you have difficulty accepting or even looking at? Pray to see them as Christ sees them. Pray to see yourself as Christ sees you. Forgive and be forgiven. And seek to love.
Parables and Passion: Jesus’ Stories for the Days of Lent
Retail Price: $15.00
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Parables and Passion offers a disciplined encounter with the parables of Jesus in the season of Lent. The book allows reflection on one parable each day arranged around relevant themes. The Prologue offers a reading for Ash Wednesday, and the Epilogue provides readings for the final days of Holy Week.
Used with the kind permission of our friends at Upper Room Books.