The Gospel passage set for Holy Communion today is Luke 7:36-50. In it, we meet a woman who is described as a sinner. A sinner is one who falls short of the wholeness God desires for our lives. We are not told anything about the form of behaviour by which the fragmented nature of her life is expressed; though she is surely aware it is not considered acceptable, and her behaviour, even if it is necessary for any sense of living, may cause her additional shame. We can only speculate, but we must speculate responsibly. Some translations describe her as an immoral woman and as being of bad character. I believe this to be an example of irresponsible speculation. We should, rather, pay close attention to what the woman does, and how others respond. What kind of sinner is she?
Jesus has been invited to a meal, in the home of a Pharisee, someone who seeks to manage their life through very prescribed behaviour. In their culture, meals were eaten lying on the floor, with feet stretched out behind. The woman comes in. Perhaps she is noticed. She is known as someone whose behaviour is not considered acceptable. Perhaps others present are silently pleading, ‘Please don’t make a scene, please don’t make a scene…’
The woman allows herself to approach Jesus, to draw very close to his prone body. She allows herself to break down, to weep, in front of others, not caring what they think or how uncomfortable they feel. She allows herself to touch Jesus’ body, with her hair; and then to rub myrrh into his feet, embalming ointment for the preparation of the dead for burial.
In recent days Ukrainian troops have pushed back Russian invaders, and, yet again, stories have emerged of torture and killings. And I would like us to imagine that this woman, who has grown up in a land occupied by cruel soldiers of another country, knows this only too well. That, far too young, she had witnessed her parents, possibly other family members, die in traumatic circumstances. That she had had to prepare them for burial. That the past intruding into her present, triggered, as we would say today, by the smallest thing. Responding in violent outburst to the accidental brush of a passing stranger; waking her neighbours with her nightmares. A sinner, falling short of personal and relational wholeness. A sinner who dares to reach out and touch a prone body and rub ointment into flesh.
Jesus’ host is confused, but not hostile, and open to Jesus as instructor. If Jesus really were one who can interpret God's will, surely he would know that this woman fell short? And, yes, surely Jesus is perfectly aware; and, knowing God’s will, knows it is God’s will to close the gap between her present state, and wholeness. He speaks of an unpayable debt, as those who are traumatised are held hostage to events in their past, being sent away, setting them free. And he addresses the woman: ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
Your faith, your commitment to being restored, your trust that this will happen, somehow, in and through Jesus, has healed you; go on, in wholeness, your fragmented life restored to the integrated wholeness God desires for you, for all.
I am responding to the text with my imagination. But might that help us enter the forgiveness of sins, in a tangible way; and to be free to love, not fear, our neighbour, and ourselves?