These words must have stung Simon to the quick. And if the shoe fits, it should cut us to the quick as well.
This is one of those passages in the Gospels where Jesus confronts the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He does so with a simple hypothetical example that reveals their foolishness to them and others with direct and painful clarity.
In this passage we find Jesus is in the house of Simon, a Pharisee. He has been invited there for less than hospitable purposes, of course, and that is revealed in what happens here. A women, a known sinner, probably a prostitute, hears that Jesus is at Simon’s house and she goes there with a flask of ointment. When she approaches Jesus, she begins to weep so profusely, in sorrow for her sins, and in need of being healed, that she wets Jesus’ feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. Simon says to himself, under his breath, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him…” (verse 39) But Jesus knows this and says to Simon, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” (verse 40)
Jesus, then, gives Simon a hypothetical about a money lender and two debtors. One owes five hundred denarii, a princely sum, and the other owes fifty. The money lender, who we understand is the symbol of Jesus, forgives both debts. Jesus asks Simon which one of these would be more grateful, or would love him more. And Simon answers, equivocating a bit, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” (verse 43) Jesus strokes Simon’s ego a bit and tells him he has answered correctly. Then he turns the tables on Simon.
In comparison to this woman’s behavior before Jesus, Simon proved himself to be arrogant, by inviting Jesus to supper at his house for ulterior motives, for reasons that were less than hospitable. Jesus points out to him that he had not followed the customary duties of hospitality. He had not offered Jesus water to wash his feet when he entered the house, he had not offered Jesus the usual welcoming kiss. He had not anointed Jesus’ head with oils. But this woman, this great sinner, knew that she was a sinner. She was moved by her great remorse and by her need for healing. She knew who Jesus really was. In the fullness of her sorrow for her sins she washed his feet with her copious tears, and kissed them unceasingly, and anointed them with ointment. All of this was a sign of her humility in the presence of Jesus. It must have slowly dawned on Simon that in the hypothetical example that Jesus had given, she was the one who owed the greater debt, and he, Simon, was the other. So when Jesus says to Simon, “…her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” These words must have stung Simon to the quick. And if the shoe fits, it should cut us to the quick as well.
Lord, we are sinners in great need of your mercy. We come to you, like this woman, and fall before you weeping in our sorrow. We know our need for your healing forgiveness. We come to you because we know that you are the Christ, the Lamb who was sacrificed for our sins, who did this out of your infinite love for us. We humbly ask you for the graces we need to be reconciled with you and with one another, so that we too may “go in peace.” (verse 50) We pray in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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