There is an interesting story about Jesus in Luke 7.36-50 that reveals great deal about Jesus’ character and the character of people around him. Jesus was a wandering religious teacher who was becoming very popular with a great many people–things like healings, providing food and showing love and compassion were causing a great many people to seek him out and spend time with him.
Some of the religious leaders thought it would be a good idea to get to know more about Jesus–this story is obviously set in the days before the religious leaders were actively plotting to get rid of Jesus. So, one of them, called Simon, invited Jesus to eat with him. The meal was going along well until there was an unexpected interruption. An uninvited guest showed up–a woman whose reputation in the community was well known. As this uninvited and unwelcome guest is washing Jesus feet with her tears and anointing them oil, the dinner party is scandalized.
Simon, the host, a man seen as religious and moral, mutters to himself–he is not happy that the woman in there. His is a religious household and this sinful woman is tainting his house and the dinner party. The fact that Jesus is letting this woman touch him is even worse–Jesus is claiming to be a religious leader and this awful woman is actually touching him. If Jesus knew who she was, he would be as horrified as Simon, or at least that is what Simon feels.
Simon is a product of his time and place. He, like many others, believed that the effects of sin could be transmitted by contact. There are lots of laws in the Old Testament dealing with what happens when something defiled touched something clean–and generally, the consequence of this touching is that the clean object is made unclean and must be either destroyed or ceremonially cleansed. So, when Simon sees this unclean woman touching Jesus, he thinks that her touch is making Jesus unclean–and what makes it worse is that Jesus is allowing it–if he only knew.
What Simon doesn’t know or doesn’t want to know is that Jesus does know who is touching him. Jesus has divine insight and is fully aware of all that this woman has done and all that has been done to her. When he allows her to wash his feet and anoint them, he is not only fully aware of who she is but also doesn’t care what she has done or will do.
This story is a powerful example of the character of Jesus and the character of Simon. And while I would love to say that I identify with Jesus here, the truth is that I am more often reacting like Simon, condemning and judging.
I see someone on the highway do something really stupid and dangerous–and call him an idiot, overlooking the fact that I may have done the same thing recently. I hear on the news about someone arrested for some offense and feel vaguely superior because I don’t do things like that. I drive to worship on Sunday morning feeling smug because I am going to worship and am not suffering from a hangover like some in the houses I drive by.
Simon is alive and well at least in me. While I teach and preach on the need to be like Jesus–I can do a great sermon of this woman and Jesus’ reaction to her and how we should be more like Jesus–but in the end, I am more like Simon than I want to admit to myself or to God.
Fortunately, God through Jesus has made the same grace available to me that was available to Simon’s unwelcome guest–and that was available to Simon as well for that matter. Jesus doesn’t mind my being around him any more than he minds that woman being around him. He offers me the same forgiveness that he offered the woman–and had available for Simon as well.
When I show up as an uninvited and even unwelcome guest, at least by some, Jesus is going to treat me the same as he treated this woman, whose life story he knew completely and totally, just as he knows mine and Simon’s. I would rather be like the woman in the story than like Simon–and that realization helps me as I work at trying to overcome myself to be more like Jesus.
May the peace of God be with you.