Summary: We can learn much about faith by contrasting the behavior of the woman with the ointment and the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner.

What did faith do to save this woman? Why did she go in peace? We can learn much by contrasting her behavior, as Jesus did, with that of the Pharisee. First, she recognized her sin, whatever it was. And, second she did not discount the sin; she took responsibility for it. The Pharisee did not recognize his own sin, which was at least one of rash judgment. His other sin, perhaps the worst, was to deny Jesus’s prophetic mission. It was a mission to impart faith and to forgive sins. So Jesus took after him and told the parable of the two creditors. Third, the woman went to the real source of forgiveness; the Pharisee did not even recognize the power Jesus had to absolve us from sins. Lastly, the woman took action. She went to Jesus, despite the disapproval of the crowd, and performed an act that cost her not only the money for the ointment, but her pride. She wept so much she was able to wash and dry Christ’s feet, and she massaged His feet with the costly ointment. And she left justified and grace-filled, because of her faith in the power of Christ to save her. The Pharisee, in contrast, lost out on everything worthwhile in life, because even the little acceptance he gave His Savior had the tinge of sarcasm and reluctance. He had no faith, so whenever he remembered this encounter with Jesus, he experienced no hope.

The woman with the anointing was a true daughter of Abraham, because she believed in the word she heard from the Lord. The Popes go on: “Abraham is asked to entrust himself to this word. Faith understands that something so apparently ephemeral and fleeting as a word, when spoken by the God who is fidelity, becomes absolutely certain and unshakable, guaranteeing the continuity of our journey through history. Faith accepts this word as a solid rock upon which we can build, a straight highway on which we can travel. In the Bible, faith is expressed by the Hebrew word ’emûnāh, derived from the verb ’amān whose root means “to uphold”. The term ’emûnāh can signify both God’s fidelity and man’s faith. The man of faith gains strength by putting himself in the hands of the God who is faithful. Playing on this double meaning of the word — also found in the corresponding terms in Greek (pistós) and Latin (fidelis) — Saint Cyril of Jerusalem praised the dignity of the Christian who receives God’s own name: both are called “faithful”.8 As Saint Augustine explains: “Man is faithful when he believes in God and his promises; God is faithful when he grants to man what he has promised”.

“A final element of the story of Abraham is important for understanding his faith. God’s word, while bringing newness and surprise, is not at all alien to Abraham’s experience. In the voice which speaks to him, the patriarch recognizes a profound call which was always present at the core of his being. God ties his promise to that aspect of human life which has always appeared most “full of promise”, namely, parenthood, the begetting of new life: “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac” (Gen 17:19). The God who asks Abraham for complete trust reveals himself to be the source of all life. Faith is thus linked to God’s fatherhood, which gives rise to all creation; the God who calls Abraham is the Creator, the one who “calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom 4:17), the one who “chose us before the foundation of the world… and destined us for adoption as his children” (Eph 1:4-5). For Abraham, faith in God sheds light on the depths of his being, it enables him to acknowledge the wellspring of goodness at the origin of all things and to realize that his life is not the product of non-being or chance, but the fruit of a personal call and a personal love.”

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