And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. (Luke 7:36-50)
Author John Dear, SJ has written often about Jesus and women, and has called Jesus a feminist1. In his The Questions of Jesus, Fr. Dear asks us to ponder Jesus’ question to a Pharisee named Simon in whose home Jesus is dining, and into whose home a woman has entered. The woman is weeping and pouring scented oil onto Jesus’ feet, and then wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair. To Simon’s indignation, Jesus’ response is a simple question: “Do you see this woman?” Of course, Jesus is referring to the very woman in front of him, a woman with a colorful past. Jesus goes on to say that the woman, who has provided greater hospitality than the host, will be forever remembered.
Yet there can also be more to the story. Fr. Dear sees Jesus asking a wider question, a question addressed to anyone who would prefer not to see women, to write them off because of their past, to reject their works, or to regard them as objects for abuse. To Fr. Dear, there is a greater question that requires a deeper seeing: “Do you see how you have hurt them, how you have terrified them, punished them, oppressed them, starved them, raped them, and killed them? Do you see the presence of God in women?” With clear seeing, the righteous indignation of the Pharisee be replaced by a hunger for justice and equity. More fair-minded men are needed, to champion the underdogs, whoever they may be.
1Mary, Prophetess of Peace is one of our favorites. See the author’s website, JohnDear.org.