As I have been going over this passage many times this week both for my own personal work as well as for the sermon on Sunday, I was originally thinking about an underlying message of brokenness – the brokenness of the woman who anointed Jesus and the brokenness called out by Jesus of Simon. And there is plenty of truth with that. However, as the week went along, I kept feeling like something was missing in that understanding. What was missing came to me as I was hiking with my puppy. It was a strangely warm Feburary day and I was starting to see some flowers starting to bud out of the ground including this crocus. I don’t know how unusual this is for crocuses (croci?) to bud this early but it was still beautiful. I got thinking about Spring and new life and restoration and a phrase came to me…Jesus is not about breaking down but building up.
The woman came to Jesus broken and he could have left her in that broken state – rejected her because she was “a sinner” or called her out for “crashing” the dinner party. But he didn’t. He treated her like an honored guest, welcomed her, forgave her. He does this so many times over and over in the Gospels – building up and not breaking down. Even with Simon, whose “inner talk” we are privy to – a talk of judgment, of looking-down, of ugly thoughts about this woman – Even with Simon, Jesus doesn’t break him down in front of everyone – he simply asks a question and tells a story that maybe others might have picked up on or maybe not. But Jesus doesn’t call him out as much as opens the door for Simon to relate to this woman (and to so many others like her) in a way like Jesus did.
There is so much out there right now that feels like the message the church is sending to the world is that Jesus is about breaking down. Breaking down walls of community, breaking down unity, breaking down people. I was heartbroken when I read a story this morning via a friend’s facebook feed about a Presbyterian (PCA) church in Alabama that is lobbying to get their own police force to “protect” their property. Seriously? This is not the Jesus I read in the Gospels. The Jesus I read in this story and throughout the rest of his stories we have in the New Testament is about one who is ultimately about building people up, about restoration, about forgiveness. That’s the Jesus I know and like whom I seek to live. This flower is budding out of the ground that had gone silent over the winter (not that we have had much of a winter to speak of) – life coming out of death, building up not breaking down.
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing 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 kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? 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. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”