Not What You Think
Gospel Reading for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C)
You have to wonder if Luke wanted to make the reader uncomfortable. The sinner woman. The kissing. The flowing hair. The feet*. Jesus, what on earth is going on here with this woman? Do you realize what she's doing?
(*Feet being a common Hebrew euphemism for...well, something north of the feet. Completely blows up the Book of Ruth's PG rating, but it did also lead to one of my favorite offhanded comments by a professor: "Uncovered his feet my foot." But I digress.)
Luke puts us in the same judgmental seat occupied by Simon the Leper. The gospel writer opens up the door and most of us run right through it. The sinful woman must be a prostitute. That had to be her sin. I will admit that is what I always assumed. That had to be her sin. Yet in reading a commentary by Richard B. Vinson I learned that the "sinner woman" language is no different than Peter asking Jesus to leave him because he was a sinful man.
The fact that I assumed the woman was a prostitute holds a fair amount of sexism to it. That must be the big sin I assumed. What else would make her weep at Jesus's feet like that? Well, many things. She could have lied. She could have stolen something. She could have worshipped another god. She could have had a nasty fight with a loved one and then that person passed away. She could have been a drunk. She could have felt the weight of those ordinary, every day sins pile up on her. Or she could have suffered some illness, malady, or bad fortune that led everyone in the town to assume that she was sinful.
That assumption goes beyond the woman washing the feet of Jesus. In 8:2, we are told about the women who accompanied Jesus and his followers starting with Mary Magdalene. Luke tells us that she was a woman from whom seven demons had been cast out. What he does not say, nor do any of the other gospel writers, is that she was a prostitute. Yet many people assume that is what she did for a living.
For whatever reasons, many of us sit with Simon and we assume. And we are so focused on these assumptions about sin, that we completely miss what Jesus sees. We don't see the waterfall of tears. We don't see the repentance in the woman's eyes. This scandalous thing that we think might be happening isn't happening at all. Now what is going on is scandalous; just in an entirely different way. The scandal is grace.
Grace is scandalous to the graceless. For those who believe they have attained righteousness by pulling up their own bootstraps, grace is an affront. Grace is the great equalizer as it renders all as sinner men and women in need of forgiveness. The equalizer drives people nuts when they fancy themselves better than Hispanics or Muslims or Republicans or LGBTQ individuals or Southerners or anyone else. Grace exposes our assumptions about, say, a woman crying at Jesus's feet.
We need grace, but it makes us uncomfortable. It shows that the world around is not what we always think and neither are we. The good news is that even still there is grace. What a beautiful scandal.