Picture the scene – we are all sitting here in church, doing those things which we do, knowing, more or less, what comes next, enjoying the comfort and safety of the routine.
Then, the door opens. We cautiously look over our shoulder to see who has come late, mentally running through our heads who of the regulars is not here?
But this is not one of the regulars who just lost track of time, this is the local trouble maker!
This is the last person you would chose to spend time with, and even the presence of them makes you feel uncomfortable. But it gets worse. They are sobbing their heart out.
You don’t know how to respond.
You don’t know them well enough to go and comfort them, because you have spent time avoiding them.
It is not clear what they are sobbing about, but now you have noticed that they are carrying a bottle of really valuable perfume, and the first thing that passes through your mind is, where have they had that from?
Now, they are approaching the altar, the most holy space in this building, and as they reach that place, they collapse onto it, tears and snot flowing, and as their arms fall on top of the altar, the bottle breaks, and now the altar cloth is soaked not only in tears but also this perfume – the smell is almost overwhelming.
As we sit and witness this scene, which at first paralyzed us, we now begin to come to, to process what is happening. What has just happened to this peaceful, familiar space that you love? What are our thoughts?
Acknowledge to yourself how you feel about all of this.We give the Pharisees a hard time; we paint them as the ‘baddies’ of the scene. The truth is, so often they say and do the things that we least like in ourselves.
The Pharisees were furious that this person had come in and disrupted their space. They despised her, and by association, Jesus, who had not re established order.
Now, let’s spend some time looking at Jesus’ reaction. It is clear that Jesus was not paralyzed by her actions, it was not that he didn’t know what to do about her behaviour, it is that he understood what was behind what she was doing. Gently, he tries to help the Pharisees see that too.If one person owes a huge amount of money, he explains, and another a small amount, and they are both let off, who is more grateful?
If you are not very damaged in the first place, and then you are made whole, the difference will not be so noticeable as for the person who was completely shattered and then lovingly put back together again. Who will be the most grateful? The Pharisees thought that the woman’s behaviour was unacceptable and inappropriate, when, in fact, Jesus knew that her behaviour was absolutely the right response to the healing she had experience in her life. Jesus asks us to see this person, not just to look, but to see them as he sees them. Jesus sees this person as the person who has served him when the host did not.
The Pharisees were so preoccupied with deciding what was appropriate and what was not, what was the right way to behave and what was not, that they had forgotten some of the most basic courtesy. And when we come together, it is to worship God. There is no one way that this is done; it may look very different for different people. What we are called to do is to attend to our own worship, not to judge the appropriateness of our neighbours. Indeed, Jesus warns us that if we are not careful, we may be missing the whole point.
So, what is the point? Surely it is this, that each of us are damaged goods. Not one of us are without our hurts and difficulties. Each of us, by the grace of God, are being tenderly put back together. Becoming aware of our own failures and inadequacies should not bring us to self-loathing and despondency. Rather, acknowledging how broken we were and how gracious God is should lead us to embrace life more fully, to know that we are loved enough to be rescued, and that love should spill out from our lives into the lives of those who are broken around us.
Now let’s spend a moment thinking back to the ner’ do well weeping at the altar, the broken glass, the pungent smell of perfume. Try not to simply look at them, but to see them as Jesus sees them.
Recognise the pain and brokenness in their lives, where they have been, and the amazing, life restoring love that is available to them through Jesus.
Imagine what that persons life could look like if they were to know that they are beloved of their Father in heaven. Love so amazing, so divine. Maybe, even, recognize yourself in that weeping figure, your own realization of the love and grace that has put your own life back together. We can, in fact, see the difference this amazing, restoring love can have in the lives of the women who traveled around with Jesus.
Their broken lives had been put back together again, and now they spent their time telling others about this life changing love and surprising grace, practicing exuberant generosity in response to all that they had received. Social convention is thrown out of the window in these women holding the positions they do, forgiveness and love set new standards and raise new expectations; human beings appear, not as society has ‘constructed’ them, but as God sees them. What an exciting image of what can happen when we see ourselves and the broken people we meet day by day through Jesus’ eyes.