Having Eyes To See

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Metanoia. Some Christian scholars consider this the greatest word in the New Testament. It is most often translated as repentance, but it can also be translated as a change of mind. In either case the one who has experienced it knows the earth shaking reality of it. One repents because of a sudden, deep, sorrowful recognition of one’s own sins, of the consequences of those sins, the pain and the suffering that they have caused, not just to the other, but to the very self. It is a paradox. There is fear in it at first, but there is also a deep and abiding hope too. For, ultimately, repentance is a turning away from the darkness of sin toward the light, the warm, engendering light of divine love. When one repents with a pure heart and sincere contrition, the darkness of the sinful past is pushed away by the bright light of God’s love and mercy.

This is what has happened to the sinful woman of this Gospel passage. We do not know what her sins are, or see the interior struggle she has gone through in her life to bring her to this moment. What we see is her repentance. It is so profound that it produces sufficient tears to wash Jesus’ feet, and she dries them with her hair, then anoints them with expensive ointments. She is speechless with her repentance. She is so overwhelmed by the knowledge of her sinfulness, and with her faith in Jesus to relieve her of her terrible burden, that she can only express it in this emotionally powerful way. Words would not be sufficient to express this moment for her. She knows her sins and she knows who can forgive them. By the grace of God, she has come to herself and stands on the stillpoint of her metanoia. Both here deep sorrow and her profound joy are expressed in her effusive tears.

In contrast to her is, of course, Simon, the Pharisee, who has invited Jesus to his house to dine with him. We know that it is not a mere social courtesy that causes him to do this. He, like all the other Pharisees, was trying to do whatever he could to test this itinerant preacher. This Jesus made them uncomfortable and they wanted to be rid of him. We know that Simon’s intentions are neither noble, nor hospitable here. And this is proven in his reaction to Jesus’ response to this sinful woman who was touching him so intimately.

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“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.'” (Luke 7: 39) Jesus knows what Simon is thinking and he uses this as a ‘teaching moment.’ “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And Simon, of course, takes the bait saying, “Tell me, teacher.” And Jesus says: “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 responds a bit sheepishly, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” Jesus praises him saying, “You have judged rightly.” (Luke 7: 40-43)

In my imagination, I suspect that Simon feels a bit of discomfort here. I imagine that he is beginning to realize that this teaching is being directed very pointedly at him, and is quite uncomfortable. He must suspect that he is in for more, and he is. Jesus looks at the woman who is washing, kissing, and anointing his feet with such honest emotion and says: “Simon, do you see this woman? (Buckle up, Simon, here comes the lesson.) 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.” (You can imagine Simon taking offense at these words, knowing that they are directed at him personally.) (Luke 7: 44-47)

I like to imagine here that Jesus bends down and, with his hand, tenderly lifts the woman’s face up to his, so that they look each other directly, eye to eye and says to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” I believe that this is what Jesus does to each of us when, burdened by true sorrow for our sins, we turn to him with chastened and contrite hearts and ask him for his forgiveness. And as many times as we fall, realize our sins, and turn to him for mercy, he repeats this intimate gesture, lifting our faces to his and looking into our eyes, into the depths of our souls and says to us: “Your sins are forgiven.” What joy! To experience his love in this way is beyond description. When we experience God’s love in this way we quite naturally shed tears of relief, joy and acceptance. Because, at the same time that we receive God’s forgiveness, our faith in Him is affirmed. For Jesus says to the woman (as he does to us), “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” There it is. It is because of our faith in Jesus and his forgiveness that we can turn to him in our bitterest moments, those moments when we are overwhelmed with sorrow for having failed him, that we are ultimately healed. Just as this ‘sinful woman’ knew that Jesus was the One who could and would forgive sins, was healed, so are we.

Poor Simon and his fellow guests could not see this. Let all Christians pray for those who, like Simon, are not yet able to see that Jesus is the One who can, and who will, forgive us our sins. Let us pray for our own ‘metanoia’ that we can have hearts that are pure and contrite, and that our faith is strong enough to turn toward Jesus, even in the worst of our sins, knowing that his mercy will be freely given to us and we will be healed. We pray, as always, in Jesus’ name. Amen

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.