Year C: Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Pardon of the Sinful Woman

Luke 7, 36-50

A Pharisee invited him to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears.

Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”

Jesus said to him in reply, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?” Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The others at table said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What’s your initial reaction to the unconditional forgiveness Jesus offers this woman?
  2. Do you ever find yourself feeling more deserving or worthy than someone else? In what settings? What are the dangers in this kind of thinking?
  3. There should be a direct relationship between the forgiveness you receive and your capacity for forgiving others? Where do you see this capacity growing in your life? Where do you find yourself forgiving/loving more freely?
  4. Simon may have invited Jesus into his home, but the woman welcomed Jesus into her heart. When have you had an experience of Jesus within your heart, rather than simply in your head? How would you describe the difference?

Biblical Context

Luke 7:36-8:3
Patricia Datchuck Sánchez

Meals, in the third Gospel, were favored places for teachable moments, and today’s Gospel represents a most poignant one. During a dinner at the home of Simon, a Pharisee, Jesus taught a parable about two debtors, which served to interpret the entire episode within which it was told. The lesson of the narrative, parable and context was to teach, first, that all human beings are sinners in need of forgiveness and salvation. More obvious were the woman’s sins, since her failings seem to have been known to all. But Simon, too, for all his supposed righteousness, was a sinner. Whereas Simon may have thought himself superior to the woman, he was just as needful of forgiveness as she.

Jesus’ lesson also affirmed that he was the source and the means of God’s forgiveness. While the woman extended every act of hospitality to Jesus, thereby welcoming that forgiveness, Simon did not. Not only did he fail to welcome Jesus and the forgiveness made available to him in Jesus, but he also questioned Jesus’ prophetic insights.

Aware of this, Jesus engaged Simon in a sort of Socratic interrogation that led the Pharisee to admit that the debtor who owed more, and was forgiven that debt, loved his forgiver more. But that brings us to a centuries-old ambiguity; the text (v. 47) seems to say that the woman was forgiven because of her great love — as if her love precipitated God’s forgiveness. On the contrary, the woman’s ability to love and to love so greatly was due to the fact that she had been forgiven. Hoti in Greek should be understood in its causal sense, which does not indicate the reason why a fact is so, but the means by which it is known to be so. The New English Bible avoids this ambiguity by translating verse 47: “I tell you, her great love proves that her many sins have been forgiven; where little has been forgiven, little love is shown.”

Jesus’ pronouncement, “Your sins are forgiven; your faith has been your salvation” (v. 48) confirms what has occurred — that through God’s initiative enacted in Jesus, the woman was forgiven or justified, and she appropriated God’s gifts by faith. We cannot know for certain, but we can hope that Simon and all those who relied solely on the law for justification eventually appreciated and appropriated the gifts that God was holding out to them in Jesus.

In the final verses of this Gospel (8:1-3), Luke has placed further emphasis on Jesus’ special predilection for those who understood their need for justification and for the disadvantaged members of society. Those who had been healed by him, women, and the poor all had a special place with him and the kingdom he had come to establish. Because of Jesus, the law that had raised objections to such people and placed barriers against them was no longer operative. Through Jesus, God would welcome all who would believe to the eternal messianic banquet in heaven.

Taking a Risk

Deacon Ross Beaudoin

Jesus lived a risky existence. Today we read that Jesus accepted an invitation to dine at the house of a Pharisee. Jesus was pretty hard on the Pharisees, often callingthem hypocrites. Going to dinner at the house of a Pharisee was opening himself up to scrutiny and confrontation.

To complicate matters, a woman who had a reputation as a public sinner decided to crash the Pharisee’s dinner party. How did she get in? Her presence would be an embarrassment for the host.

This woman must have found something in Jesus that made taking the risk of inviting herself into the house worthwhile. Was it that she had already come to know Jesus and had felt the power of his presence and the freeing of his forgiveness? It seems that she must have had some such encounter with Jesus that endeared him to her. Otherwise, how would she have had the courage to enter this private residence uninvited?

Inside the house, we find the woman standing behind Jesus, who was reclining at table, as was the custom. She loved Jesus. She perceived that he had been snubbed by the host: It was customary to provide water so that guests could wash the dust and dirt off of their bare feet, but Jesus had not been afforded this courtesy.

The woman had been so moved by Jesus that now she hurts for him. Her love calls her to fulfill what the host neglected. She cries for Jesus and allows her tears to flow on his feet. She bends down and wipes his feet with her long hair. Then she anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive ointment.

Would this be an uncomfortable scene? It would be for me — to be a part of it or even to witness it. And to make it more uncomfortable, the host Pharisee lets his displeasure be known. At that point, Jesus tells a parable to make a point regarding this woman, her life, her love and her actions.

It became apparent that at some time Jesus had granted forgiveness of this woman’s sins. Her overflowing love had drawn her into this house and to minister to Jesus … no matter what the risk. She was rewarded with Jesus’ words of mercy: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” She had already been forgiven; she loved; she ministered; her inner beauty was announced to the world.

Immediately after this scene the evangelist states that Jesus journeyed from place to place “preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.” That was the good news that this woman had already encountered.

And Luke adds, “Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women,” a few of whom he lists. We wonder: Was this woman from the scene in the Pharisee’s house now among those who accompanied Jesus? We don’t know. But Luke makes sure that we do know that there were women among those who went with him on his mission. Over time, was the role of the women diminished? Why would that happen?

This Sunday we can reaffirm what we find in the Gospels. We can accept that Jesus did not put distance between himself and women who loved him, who ministered to him and who ministered with him and the Twelve.

Let us meditate on this scene and bring it into today’s context in the church. Is something different now? Is anyone missing? What has changed? Can we be more like Jesus? How do we do that?