Homily 5th Sunday in Lent 2010

Luke 7:36-50 (reading for Saint Mary of Egypt)

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen; glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!

     The Lord asks a question of the Pharisee in today’s reading, that we all need to hear every so often.   “Which of them will love me more?” The Lord is referring to His parable about the debtors who have been forgiven their debts….but he is really referring to Simon and the woman who anointed the Lord’s feet.  Simon gives his answer, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”  The debtor who owed the most and whose debt is forgiven will love the creditor the most.  By extension we understand that the one whom the Lord forgives the most is the one who will love the Lord the most.

          On the face of this we would assume then, that the Pharisee Simon must not have been as “bad” a sinner as the woman who came to the Lord.  And in a certain extent that might be true.  We are not told the nature of Simon’s personal sins nor are we actually told the sins of the woman who “was a sinner,” though she is, most likely, what in older days was known as a “woman of ill repute.”  She was most likely a prostitute.   Because of this her very touch would have rendered Christ, according to the Law, as being ritually unclean.  Yet, the Lord accepted her kisses to his feet.  He accepted the anointing as coming from a loving and repentant heart.

         It is important to note that the order of events is reversed in the parable that the Lord tells.  The parable talks of the debtors being forgiven first and then the one who is forgiven most is thought to be the one who shows the most love.  In the events with Simon and the woman, the woman shows the Lord greater love than Simon first, and then she is told that she is forgiven her sins.  The action of repentance, the act of turning from sin and to the Lord in and of itself begins to work within the soul of the penitent, and the one repenting can sense this and it spurs on their repentance even more. 

          We can think on how she probably heard of the Lord and how He was so forgiving.  She might have known of the woman who was caught in adultery and to whom the Lord told that he would not condemn her (there was no one without sin in the mob to cast the first stone).  Perhaps she had been a friend of Zacchaeus or Matthew both were reformed tax collectors who had been sinners.  The fact that Jesus was known to declare the forgiveness of sins was enough to get her hopes up.  She saw that she could turn from her ways and live. One can imagine the woman making her way to the where she knew the Lord was staying.  As she walks her hopes and prayers rise up to the Lord and already the forgiveness was beginning because her heart was turning back to her Lord.  Remember the prodigal Son who came to himself and while he was just part of the way home, his father ran to greet him.  So it is with the Lord.  That parable does not say what the Prodigal Son thought in his heart as he saw his father running to him, but it could only have been joy; and when his father reached him, he formally repented of his actions.  His father had, though, obviously, already forgiven him. So it is with the sinful woman and so it is with us.  As soon as we truly turn from our sinful ways we are forgiven.  When we hear the prayers of absolution prayed over us by a priest, we are hearing the voice of the father of the Prodigal Son saying, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.  And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

          There is another important lesson to be learned from this incident with the Pharisee, the sinful woman, and the Lord, though.  I had said earlier that one would assume that the sinful woman must have had more sins than Simon the Pharisee.  How would we know this?  Because of the amount of love she showed to the Lord.  Simon neither washed the Lord’s feet, anointed his head with oil, nor did he greet the Lord with a kiss.  These were all, by the way, the customary manner of bringing in a guest to one’s home in 1st century Palestine.  One greeted the guest with a kiss, just as we kiss each other on the cheek when we greet each other.  The guest was given a chance to freshen up after being in the dusty streets.  His feet were washed and his hair was anointed with oil.  In other words Simon the Pharisee did not even greet the Lord and welcome Him with the minimum of hospitality.  Moreover, he has doubted that the Lord was even a prophet (much less the Lord) when he saw how Christ allowed the woman to touch him.  One might begin to wonder: who was it that was the greater sinner; Simon or the woman?  We know who repented, though.  By Simon’s actions we know that he did not love the Lord much and the words of the Lord bear this out:  But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

          However, part of the point of this passage is, I think, to warn us from judging others’ spiritual state.  Simon the Pharisee was more interested in thinking ill of the sinful woman than in his own inattention to the Lord.  He did not think to minister to the Lord in even the normal accepted manner.  He did not think to ask for forgiveness for his sins.  All he could do was to see the sins of another.  One could take the Lord’s words and reverse the order and they would still be true.  Instead of “to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little” one could say “To whom loves little, the same is forgiven little.” 

          Also it should be noted that the woman showed great humility in abasing herself before the Lord. She wiped his feet with her hair.  She kissed the Lord’s feet.  She truly saw herself as the lowliest of creatures, but as the Lord tells us in the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, “for every one that exaltelth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”  What can be more exalted than to hear the words of the Lord, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”  The woman has heard the words that tell her she has inherited the Kingdom of heaven!  Simon the Pharisee is not on such solid ground.  Simon’s bubble is burst when he is given the litany of things he neglected to do in ministering to the Lord.  Simon did not even pass the minimum requirements for his culture at that period in time. 

          However, what if Simon had been humble? What if he had been able to look only at his own sins and judged himself rather than the woman?  Had he been like the Publican in the parable and simply asked for God’s mercy without judging others, he too would have been justified rather than taken to task.  Moreover, one could assume that had he had the proper view of his own sinfulness he would have greeted the Lord with the proper amount of respect…and he would have welcomed the repentant woman into his home. 

          In the prayers before communion we pray, “I believe, O Lord and I confess that thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first” or in some translations, “chief.”  If we only look at our own sins and do not focus on the sins of others, then we will not judge others.  If we judge ourselves, as St. Paul says, we will not be judged a second time.  If we only look to our own sins and truly believe in humility and contrition that we truly are the chief of all sinners and we know that we have a loving God who forgives our sins, then we will perceive how great the mercy is that the Lord has shown us.  We will know how much we have been forgiven and instead of loving little because only a little was forgiven, we will love much.  Our love for the Lord will be something great to behold.  And we too will hear with the woman, “Your sins are forgiven…. your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.”

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen; glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!




©2010 Fr.  Philip Kontos