Summary: "Do you see this woman", Jesus challenges Simon, for in truth, he’d never seen her! He’d seen the prostitute, the bit of flesh, the easy conquest,
There’s nothing I enjoy more than watching a good stoush (I‘m talking ‘boxing’ here) except perhaps participating in a good stoush. I know that some of you here share my love of the pugilistic arts. I’m also conscious of the fact though that a goodly number of you people, for reasons that I can’t fully understand, not only don’t relish the thought of being in a good fight, but can’t even stand to watch one.
Why is that? Is it simply that we all have different tastes? I think there’s more to it than that. I think we actually see different things. When I watch a good boxing bout, I see people bobbing, moving, slipping and rolling, reading their opponent, pacing themselves, conserving their energy, sucking in the pain, listening, learning, focusing and strategising. Other people just see two thugs trying to thump each other.
Similarly, my wife has a love of classical music. She listens to an orchestra playing Bach and she perceives not only rhythm and melody, but vision, life and passion. All I hear is boring, boring, boring! We see and hear different things!
And I recognise that there’s more to classical music than I’m able to pick up at this stage, and I do hope that one day I will be able to perceive more, just as I trust that those who find themselves unable to relish the joys of pugilism are likewise committed to making an effort to grow in their appreciation of a good slug-fest.
Now, you might be wondering what all this talk of boxing (let alone classical music) could have to do with a sermon on today’s Gospel reading? Well, all will become clear in a moment, as we reflect on Jesus in the home of Simon the Pharisee, and focus on the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, and especially on the question Jesus asked his host, Simon - one of the most pointed questions we hear Jesus ask anyone in the New Testament - “Simon, do you see this woman?”
The scene begins respectably enough. Jesus has been invited for a meal at the home of a local cleric by the name of Simon, though it is not entirely clear why the invitation was issued.
Scholars have suggested that it may have been a Sabbath meal, following the morning synagogue service, at which Jesus may well have been guest preacher. This would make sense, as it is indeed common practice that when you are guest preacher somewhere, the local priest does usually invite you back to lunch at his or her place afterwards.
Perhaps that is exactly how it happened, or perhaps Rabbi Simon was just keen to entertain a man he considered a local celebrity? Either way, what is reasonably clear is that Simon hadn’t invited Jesus because the two of them were great mates. Indeed, you get the impression that Simon didn’t really like Jesus very much at all, for it seems he omitted to show Jesus the customary gestures of hospitality. He didn’t offer Jesus any water or oil to freshen up with when He arrived, and he didn’t greet Jesus with the customary welcoming kiss!
We don’t know for sure how Jesus came to be in the house of Simon the Pharisee that day, though I suppose it doesn’t matter much. The more intriguing question for me though is how the notorious woman came to be in his house at the same time!
Now, we know even less about this woman than we do about Simon. She’s referred to as a ‘well known sinner’ (literally, a woman ‘who was in the town a sinner’). And this description, and Simon’s comment, that “if this man were really a prophet, he would know who this is and what sort of a woman is touching him”, both lend credence to the traditional assumption made of this woman, that she was indeed a local sex-worker.
Simon alludes to that. The text (rather tastefully) suggests it. Jesus though doesn’t seem to pick it up at all, or if He does, He evidently doesn’t care too much about it, for even when she starts kissing Him and massaging Him, Jesus doesn’t recoil in any way, but instead seems to appreciate it!
It is a weird scene. One suspects that the dinner guests were engaging in polite conversation about the weather or local sporting events when this highly emotional woman suddenly appeared behind Jesus and started weeping and wiping and anointing Jesus’ feet!
Now, we’re told that the dinner guests were ‘reclining at table’, as was the custom in Palestine at the time at civilised dinner parties, so we must imagine the woman, not on the floor under Jesus’ chair, but kneeling at the foot of the couch upon which Jesus would have been lying on his side, propped up on one elbow.