when i was at denver seminary in the spiritual direction program i had to present a “Jesus encounter” as one of my class projects as a way for people to interact with Jesus experientially. the passage i chose is one of my favorites–luke 7:36-50:, the sinful woman at simon the pharisee’s house. it’s still one of my all-time favorites and here’s what it says:
“one of the pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. when a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “if this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. she’s a sinner!” then Jesus answered his thoughts. “simon,” he said to the pharisee, “i have something to say to you.” “go ahead, teacher,” simon replied. then Jesus told him this story: “a man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. but neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. who do you suppose loved him more after that?” simon answered, “i suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.” “that’s right,” Jesus said. then he turned to the woman and said to simon, “look at this woman kneeling here. when i entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. you didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time i first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. you neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. “i tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. but a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” then Jesus said to the woman,“your sins are forgiven. the other guests began to say among themselves, “who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
this story is a story of pride and humility, two things i wrestle with every day of my life.
it’s easy when i read this story to look at simon the pharisee and pick on him. but the truth is that i am often simon the pharisee. prideful, looking at others with a hardened heart, mocking others’ devotion, sure that my way is the better way, asking God to bend the world my way. i can be judgmental and harsh. i can point fingers. i can close my heart and mind to grace for certain people.
the sinful woman in this story embodies humility. she’s desperate, willing to act on her devotion despite how it might look, willing to break all the rules and conventions to connect with the living God. she’s spiritually poor. she’s longing for grace. she’s brave enough to be humble.
pride is based in fear.
humility requires courage.
like so many other areas of our lives, i don’t think this is an either/or. we’re not either prideful or humble. we’re probably always both. but i also do think the greater peace and freedom and hope and life come when there’s more humility & less pride, more of our own desperation for God & less finger pointing at others. more not-caring-what-others-think & less keeping up our appearances. more awareness of our weaknesses and need for grace & less denial. more spiritual poverty & less i’ve-got-it-covered.
this formation friday, i thought i’d just toss out this passage to consider. intersect with the story in whatever way you need to. read it a few times.
how do you see yourself in the story?
what’s God stirring up in you through it?
how are you feeling this tension between pride & humility in your real life right now?
i’d love to hear anything it stirs up.
to close, i thought i’d share a poem i wrote over 5 years ago, before i had even started this blog, for a piece on the porpoise-diving life’s faith in a dress issue. it was based on this passage and yeah, i want to be like her, not simon.
the sinful woman at simon the pharisees house
she busted through the door
fell at this feet
desperate, searching, certain that He’d
give her something she craved.
peace. understanding. hope.
they scoffed. how could she?
how could He?
her type’s not welcome here.
this gathering, it’s for the together,
the smart, the boys, the elite.
welcome or not, she knew she
had to get there.
to His feet.
to lay before Him
and offer her tears, her heart,
the sweet smell of perfume mixed with
filled the courtyard.
and the bystanders gaped.
you can’t do that. we’re talking
and you want to weep,
to fall all over yourself?
yes, He affirms. she gets it.
this is the theology He’s talking about.
doesn’t care if she’s misunderstood.
she knows He forgives.
He loves. He believes in her when
nobody else does.
and because of her past, all the mistakes,
raw and real.
because of her desperation,
her unwillingness to hide or pretend
because of her humility,
her openness to healing.
may i be like her,
breaking the rules.
causing heads to turn.
risking my pride.
willing to find Him at all costs.
// kathy escobar, june 2007