Jesus asks a good question. Let me rephrase that: does Jesus ask a good question? (You’ll have guessed that I think he does.) Here, the question addressed to a respectable religious man named Simon, is:
Do you see this woman?
How could he not have seen her? She’s in his house! And behaving… Like that! Such a notorious woman, a well-known ‘sinner’. How could he not have seen her? A woman like that! (We are never told what kind of sinner she is. But we can guess. Her reputation goes before her.)
Perhaps we wonder how a woman like that comes to be in the house of Simon the Pharisee. ‘Mr Respectable’ certainly didn’t invite her. We’re so used to living behind locked doors, keeping the world out, that we can’t imagine a world where, if you invite a celebrity to dinner, the whole street turns up.
And what does she think she is doing there? It turns out, that although the respectable, religious world has rejected her – they know what sort of woman she is! – Jesus hasn’t. And Jesus, through his actions, models what God is like.
Simon, the respectable religious man, thinks, “If Jesus were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman this is, and have nothing to do with her”. And here she is, bathing Jesus’ feet with her tears, drying them with her hair. Kissing his feet! Showing her gratitude and love in the only way she knows how, through intimate, tender touch.
Simon, do you see this woman? Simon hasn’t seen this woman. He has only see what sort of woman she is. Jesus has seen this woman: a unique individual, created in the image of God.
And so Jesus tells this story about the two debtors. Neither of them is ever going to pay back what they owe, but the banker lets both of them off! Given that one owed a large sum of money and the other, a ginormous sum of money, who is going to be more grateful? (A: The one who is let off the larger amount.)
Simon, the respectable religious man, presumably feels that God is jolly lucky to have him on board. This woman (and sadly we are never told her name) feels simply overwhelmed that God, unlike so many others, has not rejected her. That’s what Jesus shows in the way in which he accepts her love.
Jesus tells her that her sins are forgiven, that her faith has saved her; that she can go in peace. Who is this that even forgives sins? Jesus is demonstrating God’s love, welcome and acceptance.
The photographer, at ‘the wedding of the year’, is taking pictures of guests as they arrive in church. The bride’s mother appears in all her glory. “Young man”, she says to the photographer. “I hope that you will do me justice!” “What you need”, says the photographer under his breath, is not justice, but mercy.”
How do you approach God today? Demanding that he do you justice? (Be careful!) Or simply needing his mercy? (I know which I need!)