Simon the Pharisee, a woman, and St Luke

I expect that most of us have been to a meal or a party at a friend’s or a relative’s house. We would have been invited with a spoken or a written invitation. When we knocked at the door it would have been opened and we would have been welcomed and our coats taken. We would have been shown in and at some point told where the bathroom or toilet was. When the time came for the meal, if it wasn’t an informal buffet balancing food on our laps, we would have been invited to sit on chairs at a dining table with knives and forks set out before us. And if a neighbour turned up that had not been invited then they would not have been let in.

But if you were going to a meal at a friend’s house in Jesus’ time and country things would
happen somewhat differently. When you arrived you would be greeted with a kiss of welcome, some water would be provided to wash your dirty feet, along with some oil or scent for your head to freshen you up in the hot climate. When the time came for the meal – as it was warm – it would be outside in the courtyard in the shade. And you would not have chairs or cutlery. You would eat reclining, resting on your left arm and using bread in your right hand to scoop up your food. And if there was a famous person present, people who were not invited were perfectly at liberty to drop in to listen to the conversation. That courtyard would have been a bit like a medieval banqueting hall where the important and the plebs were all together.

Remember that background and you may understand our Gospel reading a little bit better – Luke 7:36-50.

At that meal and in that courtyard were two very different people …
[1] Simon the Pharisee was a respectable man and quite proud of himself … he prayed and
read his Bible regularly … he attended synagogue (church) and gave to it and to charities … he was well known and looked up to in the community … he and his family were an example to all.

[2] A Woman, whose name we never learn, appeared to be the exact opposite … she was a
sinner … no one respectable would be seen with her … possibly a prostitute … she was never to be seen at synagogue, though I doubt that she would have been made at all welcome. I wonder which one of these two would fit in easily amongst us? Which would feel welcome or be welcomed?

They were two very different people whose reactions to Jesus were very different …

[1] Simon invited Jesus, but gave him no kiss of welcome, no water to wash his feet. He was
holding back, testing Jesus out … seeing whether Jesus would measure up. And his hesitations about Jesus seemed to be well founded when he allowed that woman to touch him!

[2] The Woman, on the other hand, had seen and heard the love Jesus had for ordinary and
sinful people … not that he accepted their bad lives … he wanted change … but he loved them in spite of it and did not put himself above them. And so she braved the home of the Pharisee, where she knew she would not be welcome, and was overcome as she washed, dried, kissed and anointed Jesus’ feet. It was all very unseemly and embarrassing, but she was beyond caring about what others thought.

It is at this point in the story that we read what I find one of the most ironical verses in the Bible:

“when (Simon) 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 kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.’” Luke 7:39. What’s the irony? (Simon) the Pharisee … said to himself …(And) Jesus answered him … What Simon did not gamble on was that Jesus not only knew what kind of woman she was, but also what he was thinking.

Jesus said to Simon: “the one who has been forgiven little loves little”. Simon had not wasted his time being a good person … Jesus was happy about that … but Simon had begun to believe that he could be good enough on his own and he began to look down upon others … Simon was a sinner as well and needed God’s forgiveness just as much as that woman.

2000 years later we know his name. What we do not know is whether he found forgiveness and peace of mind. On the other hand, we do not know that woman’s name, but we do know what Jesus said to her: “Your sins are forgiven … Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

“If this man were a prophet, he would have known …” 2000 years later, here and now, Jesus knows and sees what is in each of our hearts … what we are proud of … what we are ashamed of or embarrassed by … but none of us need leave this morning without hearing those words of Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven … Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Words of Jesus’ love and healing which we carry like St Luke the Physician to share with others.

Almighty God, you called Luke the physician,
whose praise is in the gospel,
to be an evangelist and physician of the soul:
by the grace of the Holy Spirit
and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel,
give us your Church the same love and power to heal;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, Amen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.