O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
defend your Church from all false teaching
and give to your people knowledge of your truth,
that we may enjoy eternal life
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
He showed his people the power of his works
in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of his hands are truth and justice;
all his commandments are sure.
They stand fast for ever and ever;
they are done in truth and equity.
He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever;
holy and awesome is his name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
a good understanding have those who live by it;
his praise endures for ever.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.’ Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’
Then turning towards the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
Today’s reading calls us to, once again, reflect on the nature of ‘love’: our love for God. We are presented with a scene that is easy to picture in our mind’s eye. Jesus is at a dinner party in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Our attention is also drawn to an uninvited guest: the unnamed sinful woman, who wept and bathed Jesus’ feet with ointment and then dried his feet with her hair. As we look upon this scene we are invited to observe a ‘sleight of the hand’, a trompe-l’oeil,which is almost worthy of a good whodunnit. The question we need to consider revolves around the motivations and practices of the principal characters.
Simon the Pharisee has invited Jesus to dine with him. The unnamed woman, who had not been invited to the meal, comes into the scene and performs a ritual act of cleansing that demonstrates a level of poor taste that would offend any who knew the strict rules of Judaism. Which one is the ‘good’ guy, and which the ‘bad’?
Not surprisingly, and very much in the spirit of so many of those whodunnits that amuse and entertain, things are not as simple as they seem. It is revealed that Jesus’ host failed to offer the normal courtesies of ritual cleansing when Jesus arrived. This is both surprising and suggestive. It suggests that Simon did not consider Jesus worthy of such normal courtesies and, perhaps, he was not that observant a Pharisee as he would like others to believe. The unnamed sinful woman, for her part, was a gate-crasher, an uninvited presence at the party, but it was she who performed the rituals that should have been offered by the host. What a tangle of actions and motivations!
Perhaps we should not be surprised to read that Jesus did not join Simon the Pharisee in condemning the actions of the unnamed woman. She recognized her sinful nature and the need to seek forgiveness. She recognized the true nature of Jesus and sought forgiveness through an act of lowly service. The arrogance and the negligence of Simon demonstrated a disregard for Jesus’ divinity, perhaps even a contempt! The faith and love demonstrated by the unnamed woman led to her sins being forgiven, and the opening up of a new future. Not so for the negligent host.
Let us pray that we might take our sinful lives to Christ and seek his forgiveness. Let us pray that we might approach God in lowliness and humility, setting aside human pride and vanity. Let us pray that, as we seek God’s forgiveness for ourselves, we might also forgive others with an open, generous and loving heart.
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray to God, who knows the unspoken secrets of all hearts.
As our Lord accepts the offering of sinners and outcasts given in love, so may the Church, the company of sinners who know their need, seek where their only help is to be found. May his people honour him by offering the most precious gifts of reverence and holy obedience, and receiving in love all who turn to him.
As God has shown mercy to the whole world in pardoning the debt of sin through the atoning death of his Son, may the spirit of love prevail to pardon the debts under which so many are burdened. We pray for the countries that are working to build a new life on the broken foundations of the past, and for compassion in the rich who can help to make them free.
When we sit at meals with our families and our friends, help us to remember that the Lord is always present. May our lives, and the lives of all in this community, be such as will honour that presence with the best that each can offer.
We pray for all who are bowed down and broken through debt that has gone beyond their means. We pray too for all who are burdened with sin and are ignorant or afraid to come for pardon. May the power of Christ, who knows the inmost self, enter and heal them.
Receive into eternal life the departed who with tears of repentance have come to the feet of Christ, and those who in this world have failed to know the fullness of his love for sinners. May the infinity of that love embrace them all.
As the precious ointment was offered in humility, love and sorrow, we bring our prayers to the feet of Christ.
Prayer for the week
Into the hands of your love and mercy,
O God our Father,
we commit our lives this day:
our work and the tasks that await us;
our homes and the members of our families;
our loved ones and especially those in need.
Give to us your guidance,
your strength and your protection,
according to our needs
and throughout this and every day
keep us abiding in your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.