Homily: “Do You See This Woman?”
Today’s readings are about confronting injustice with story-telling. Nathan tells David a story about a man who steals another man’s sheep; Jesus tells the Pharisee a story about two people who owed great debts.
I really love the story of the woman of the Gospel. Part of me really wants to relate to this woman, for two reasons: first, she put her whole self into this experience, her mind, her heart, her body – her whole self. She didn’t let anything hold her back – her reputation, protocol, religious laws nothing held her back from pouring out her gratitude for having experienced God’s forgiveness. I love that about her. How often do we put our whole selves – heart, mind, body – into anything?
But I also relate to this woman because I know what it feels like to stand in need of forgiveness, and then to receive that forgiveness, that grace, and to feel not only grateful but even transformed, as if I could start my life all over again. So one part of me can really put myself in her place.
Now, another part of me doesn’t want to relate to Simon the Pharisee, but knows I should. We know this story, don’t we? We know that every single one of us, at one time or another, fits in Simon’s shoes, or sandals, as it were. It’s that human thing, right? Jumping to conclusions, judging other people, justifying ourselves. Simon has got nothing on us.
He’s a curious kind of person. He can’t resist inviting this traveling preacher to his home, but how warm is the welcome, and how sincere the hospitality – how great is the honor – if Simon neglects even the usual customs of providing water to wash the feet of his guest, or oil for anointing his head, or even the traditional greeting of a kiss? He doesn’t just neglect Jesus, he actually sits there and has the nerve to doubt Jesus’ true status as a prophet because, well, of course, a ‘true‘ prophet would be able to tell that this woman who was touching him – horror of horrors, making Jesus unclean, too – was a ‘sinner’!! Everybody in town knew about this woman, and this would-be prophet, Jesus, couldn’t tell what kind of person she was, and there he was, letting her pour this extravagant display of affection on him! ’Disgraceful’!
Dis-graceful. Yes. Not-full-of-grace. I’m thinking about Simon, and I’m feeling rather judgmental myself, too. I can get really worked up about his treatment of this woman, his hypocrisy, and his skepticism about Jesus. It almost feels ‘good’ to read about somebody so ‘bad’, and to compare ourselves to them, and to be satisfied with the result.
I find it very easy to feel compassion and understanding for the sinful woman who is judged by Simon. I feel kind of good about myself, as matter of fact, because obviously I’m so open-minded and kind-hearted, and Simon the Pharisee is a hypocritical, judgmental, merciless religious tyrant.
Hmmmm….how did I get to such a place? How is it that I can so easily divide the world into two kinds of people, the good and the bad? From this safe distance in time and place, it feels like I can easily open my heart to this unnamed woman, and close it up absolutely to this man, Simon the Pharisee. So I can imagine Jesus saying, “Warren, do you see this man?”
For I think the most important sentence in this text may be the simple question, “Simon, do you see this woman?” Simon, can you look past your pre-conceptions, your assumptions, your cherished beliefs, your social status, your religious prejudices…and see a child of God? Simon, can you accept the lesson she is teaching you at this very moment? Simon, can you turn off that harsh voice playing in your head, and open your heart to the tenderness of this moment? Simon, can you let grace change your life?
But this is just as true for us today. When we look at those we consider “sinners” – those who disagree with us, politically or religiously, who are considered, for one reason or another, our “enemy,” can we look past our preconceptions, our assumptions, our cherished beliefs, and see a child of God? Can we let grace change ‘our‘ lives, too?
Perhaps that’s the key. These people that we read about who open their hearts to Jesus, who see him in truth and accept him: do we doubt that their lives are transformed?
I wonder about our seeing sometimes, about our ability to see rightly. I wonder if we sometimes miss what is on the edges of our vision, what is otherwise easily missed. ‘Peripheral vision’ is often the most astute way to see: it finds what we’re actually looking for – or, just as often, what we’re actually looking for finds us – in unexpected quarters. Peripheral vision includes what we tend to exclude and looks to the boundaries of what we are accustomed to seeing. It takes in what is neglected outside the field of ordinary vision. “God does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
The Lord looks on the heart. Simon’s tunnel vision caused him to miss the heart of the teaching– justice for the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed – because he was looking straight ahead, at the Law, at respectability, at his own moral purity, and he failed to “see this woman,” to look on her heart. Jesus offered to heal Simon’s blindness by opening his eyes to his own failings in hospitality and by holding up the woman as an example of extravagant hospitality, gratitude, and love.
I wonder: how are we looking past the children of God who are on the edges of our lives and our communities, as we concern ourselves with our own needs, our own families’ needs, our righteousness and our rights? And what about that hospitality thing – we have put our hearts into extending a warm and loving welcome to all people who walk through the doors of this church. But it’s a good idea for us to check our vision every once in awhile, to make sure it’s taking in all the folks who are here…not just our friends, but each and every person who comes here to experience God’s grace and love in this community of faith.
And perhaps some peripheral vision – some careful looking around – will take in the shadowy corners of our lives where we fall prey to the things we don’t want to be: judgmental, inhospitable, self-righteous, unkind. When we see these things about ourselves, and know ourselves as “sinners” in need of God’s grace, we can open our hearts to the forgiveness of which Jesus has assured this unnamed woman.
We don’t know what Simon decided to do or where he decided to place his trust, but I want to believe that his life was transformed by this one evening, this dinner party with Jesus. I also want to believe that our gathering regularly at this table, sharing the meal that Jesus gave us, transforms our lives by opening our hearts and opening our eyes to the unexpected moments of grace and the unanticipated gift that each person, each child of God, brings into our lives.
I imagine that we all know indebtedness of one kind or another, and we long for forgiveness and freedom from the burdens we carry. I pray that that longing not only will open our hearts to God’s love and make us grateful like this unnamed woman: but that it may also open our eyes to see “this woman,” “this man,” “this child,” each person who comes into our lives, the way Jesus saw them, the way that God sees each one of us today. © Kate Huey