This week in worship, we’re exploring Luke 7:36-50. It’s the story of the woman with the alabaster jar. You can read it here on Bible Gateway.
The story sets up a contrast. On the one hand there’s Simon: a Pharisee, a good person, the kind of person who can invite Jesus over for dinner. On the other hand, there’s the unnamed woman: a sinner, uninvited to the feast.
If you’re familiar with the theme of reversal in the Gospels, then you can guess where this is heading. The unnamed woman is the one who offers the truest act of worship. She cleans Jesus’ feet, which was an expected act of hospitality among people travelling by foot on dusty paths, but she does so with her tears and her hair; it’s an unexpectedly intimate image. Then, she anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume carried in an alabaster jar.
Simon, for all that he seems like a proper kind of person, doesn’t even offer Jesus the normal hospitality of water for footwashing. There’s still something about worship that Simon doesn’t understand.
Jesus says that it’s all about forgiveness. The unnamed woman has been forgiven much, and she knows it, and she responds with a love that flows from that depth. Simon, in all his properness, hasn’t spent so much time thinking of himself as a sinner… and when forgiveness incarnate arrives in his house, his lack of attention shows.
If you want to explore other reflections on this story, here are some options for you:
…Simon is disappointed in Jesus; “if this man were a prophet” indicates that he thinks Jesus, if he were a prophet would have known she was a sinner; real prophets can discern character. But Jesus is a real prophet, for he discerns Simon’s thoughts exactly! And tells a little parable. Simon is seen right through, and knows it. “I suppose…” tries to maintain dignity by distancing himself from the debate. Jesus will have none of it: “… you gave me no water. Do you see this woman!? She has shown you what it is to love and honour and respond to God’s forgiveness of us all. Her love is the sign of it.”
He reaffirms her: “Your sins are forgiven.” This is important. She is not forgiven because of her love. Her love follows her forgiveness…
-Andrew Prior, “The Healing of Smelly Feet”
…I almost wish I could have taken this woman aside to convince her that there surely must have been a better time and place for her overwhelming demonstration of gratitude. And yet, as I think about it, I am certain she had thought out all the possible consequences before she came as an uninvited guest to Simon’s dinner party and wept at Jesus’ feet. And in the end, what did she have to lose that she had not already lost? Even more than that, she may have been thinking that this chance may never come again and if she did not take it now, she might never have the opportunity to (almost literally) shower on Jesus her grateful love.
And yet. While the story focuses on the unnamed woman of the city with her alabaster jar, I’m not sure that the story is really, finally, about her. Indeed, I can’t help but wonder if it really is about Simon, the Pharisee and his silent judgment of one whose life journey had been so very different from his own. At least that’s where the story seems to be left hanging, it seems to me. For while the woman is sent on her way with saving faith and Jesus’ own promised peace? Simon is left with Jesus’ words contrasting his experience of faith with that of this woman who was known as a sinner — and he comes across looking as though his life and faith are lacking in some way. And in fact, they are…
-Janet Hunt, “Nothing Left To Lose”
Wilmington Yearly Meeting offers us this query to consider, with regard to worship: How do we prepare our hearts and minds for worship? Do we meet in expectant waiting for the promptings of the Inward Christ? In our silence and our speaking, are we drawn together by the power of God in our midst?
The unnamed woman came to Jesus with heart and mind prepared for worship. So may we all.
We’re gathering on Zoom for worship at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday. If you need the link or the call-in information, call Julie or message our Facebook page before 9:30 a.m. on Sunday. We’ll have a plethora of kid-friendly activities, including a youth breakout room, and time for adults to hear a sermon and sit in waiting worship.