Simon is better than the woman. There is no doubt about it. Simon the Pharisee is a much more upright, much more blessed, and vastly more moral than the woman who comes, interrupts the dinner party, and makes a spectacle of herself as she wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair and anoints his feet with oil. Simon follows the law. Simon is in debt to no one. Simon is blessed enough to share what he has with an extravagant meal. Yes, Simon is better and much more righteous than the woman.
He knows it too. As he stares at the woman who is groveling over and stroking Jesus’ feet, he secretly indulges in the passing judgment about how petty and filthy the woman is. How dare she presume to come into the dinner party? How dare she presume to touch Jesus with her unclean hands? What a sad, sad child? Pity!
I am not trying to put Simon down; the same kind of thought has crossed my mind before. Sure, I know that as a Christian I am to be loving and accepting of people; even accepting of the unlovable and underprivileged. But, I do have to admit to the fleeting thoughts of Simon; the ones that say, “why don’t you clean yourself up,” or “why don’t you just go get a job and stop mooching off of others,” or “what gives you the right to be here and make a decision,” or “whatever made you think that you would fit in here,” or simply, “look at her, gross.” The thoughts may be fleeting, but they are not trivial.
I once knew a man whom the world would consider “blessed.” He had many things and shared his wealth freely. He was very intelligent and was not shy with sharing his knowledge. The man was a walking encyclopedia and would help you with anything that you desired to know. His hair was slicked back perfectly, which seemed to suit him as he was a devoted usher in the church. He served on the church council regularly and on several community boards. He was an honest and righteous man.
There was only one problem. You could never get close to the guy. He would give you the shirt off of his back, but he would not stick around to help you put it on. He would feed you with valuable information, but needed no help in return. He was tall and looked down on everyone he was around, literally and figuratively. He was God’s gift to the world, and he knew it. A person did feel attended to by the man, but did not necessarily feel loved. To this man, and to us when we live his life even so slightly, Jesus has a message for us:
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."
A person who does not need God, is exactly that; a person who does not have God. The woman, who has been granted the loving forgiveness of God, has God’s love to share. God has chosen her and she is overwhelmed that she has the opportunity to participate in that love and grace. The woman participates in the very source of life, Jesus the Christ, as she celebrates the joy of forgiveness. She is close, and intimate, and has love.
So what of the righteous? The problem of the righteous is not that they have transgressed any moral law, they truly are righteous after-all. The problem lies at a much deeper level. The problem lies in their inability to participate in the new life of Jesus Christ. Yes, they want forgiveness, but they do not believe that they need much of it. They love little because they have allowed themselves to be forgiven little.
Lutheran Theologian Paul Tillich, from his book The New Being once asked,
Why do Christians turn away from their righteous pastors? Why do people turn away from righteous neighborhoods? Why do many turn away from righteous Christianity and from the Jesus it paints and the God it proclaims? Why do they turn to those who are not considered to be the righteous ones? Often, certainly, it is because they want to escape judgment. But more often it is because they seek a love which is rooted in forgiveness, and this the righteous ones cannot give. Many of those to whom they turn cannot give it either. Jesus gave it to the woman who was utterly unacceptable. The Church would be more the Church of Christ than it is now if it did the same, if it joined Jesus and not Simon in its encounter with those who are rightly judged unacceptable. Each of us who strives for righteousness would be more Christian if more were forgiven us, if we loved more and if we could better resist the temptation to present ourselves as acceptable to God by our own righteousness.
All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.