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The Penitent Woman

Ordinary 11     Year C

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St. Luke 7: 36 – 50

 

Introduction

In our Gospel passage for this week the Church holds up for our reflection and prayer, yet another person restored to fullness of life when they were without hope. In this case, it is not a dead person, but someone whose life and miserable bondage had, in fact, been worse than death.

Many books of reference, such as commentaries, show a major preoccupation with who the penitent woman is, and how the story should be reconciled with similar accounts such as Matthew 26: 6 – 13; Mark 14: 3 – 9; and John 12: 1 – 8. Our objective, putting those issues aside, is to discern the message presented by the Church in selecting this for our focus and meditation. On that basis we will, as it were, take a walk through the account recorded by St Luke, and take in his particular emphasis and presentation.

Click here for a printable copy of the text

(There is an Appendix of Additional Notes at the end for those who
wish to study this text in more detail. They are not essential reading
for this reflection but could assist students of Sacred Scripture.)

 

Some Reflections on the text

Verse 36

“A Pharisee invited him to dine with him, and he entered
the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.”

The reference to a Pharisee is a clear indicator that this man is highly trained in knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures. He had heard of Our Lord’s amazing ability to apply Scripture to daily situations, and His ability to act and speak as a prophet of Israel. The Pharisee has no hostility towards Jesus, unlike some of his fellow rabbis, and, in fact, shows a certain courage and openness to meet Our Lord and let Him speak for Himself. How natural, therefore, to invite Him to an evening meal, at which Jesus has agreed to attend. Upon entering the home of His host, He removed His sandals and “reclined at table” ― meaning He lay down on a couch in the customary manner, top half of the body near the table, with legs pointing away.

Verse 37 ― 38

“Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was
at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask
of ointment,

she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his
feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed
them, and anointed them with the ointment.”

There is nothing in this text to identify this woman as Mary of Magdala or the sister of our Lord’s friend, Lazarus. We only know for sure that she had been a person of debauched life and conversation. We say, “had been“, since the Lord indicates she “used to be“. We have no information about the males who took advantage of her.

The woman had wanted to locate Jesus and ascertained He was spending the evening at the Pharisee’s home. She has no trouble gaining entry, though not an invited guest: it was Jewish custom to permit the poor to stand beyond the outer perimeter of the reclining guests to receive any portions of unwanted food.

The question comes to mind, “Why would this woman ― well known around town ― want to find Jesus in order to anoint His feet.

In verses 29 and 35 of this chapter of St Luke, there is a short interaction between the disciples of St John the Baptist who had come to hear and observe Jesus and report back to their master. In the process Our Lord let it be known even the worst sinner can repent and let God turn their life around. The woman in our reading has heard and been inspired by this teaching of Jesus and has been completely transformed. She therefore approaches Our Lord and shows her gratitude that “even she” is not excluded from His mission. She now displays true and robust virtue in believing in His word and acting as the Holy Spirit leads her. We note how respectful she was of Jewish etiquette ― that she anointed only His feet and not His head.

Verse 39

“When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said
to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know
who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him,
that she is a sinner’.”

In the Greek text the implication is: “If this man were really a prophet” ― meaning, contemptuously  that He is not ― He would know He shouldn’t be letting this woman touch Him. If Simon were as well instructed in the Scriptures as he prides himself in being, he should have been aware that all things are not necessarily revealed to God’s Prophets. Thus judgment is out of order; and he is in for a bog shock! For Jesus Messiah demonstrates He knows not only the woman’s circumstances, but can read his secret, demeaning thoughts. Our Lord seems to care less about Simon’s attitude to Him than to the woman. The learned Pharisee has completely missed the obvious ― that this penitent woman is exhibiting radiant signs of repentance which should be a joy to Him. His failure to discern this is, in our Lord’s scale of values, extremely serious.

Verse 40 ― 43

“Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Simon, I have something to say
to you.’ ‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said.

‘Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five
hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty.

Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for
both. Which of them will love him more?’

Simon said in reply, ‘The one, I suppose, whose larger debt
was forgiven.’ He said to him, ‘You have judged rightly’.”

Our Lord makes a surprise move. He doesn’t call his host a hypocrite but instead gives the Pharisee an opportunity to reflect on his unworthy, self-righteous attitude. In other words, Jesus gives his host the same opportunity that the woman was given, to see where he went wrong, and turn his life around.

Even the opening words of Our Lord to Simon are a sign to him of the Lord’s patience:
“Simon, may I put something to you?” Simon’s response is not without promise. His words amount to “Go ahead Rabbi; I’m listening”.

“Simon, may I put something to you?” Simon’s response is
not without promise. His words amount to “Go ahead Rabbi;
I’m listening”.

Jesus relates a short parable demonstrating that we are filled with love and gratitude in proportion to how great we see God’s forgiveness of our shortcomings.

At the end of the parable both Simon and Our Lord are in agreement about which of the characters would have loved their creditor more. We do not know anything of how this affected Simon the Pharisee. His response was hypercautious on this occasion ― but that is human. Let us hope he gave it generous thought afterwards.

Verse 44 – 46

“Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon,
‘Do you see this woman? When I entered your house,
you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed
them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.

You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing
my feet since the time I entered.

You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed
my feet with ointment’.”

Our Lord speaks to Simon, His host, while looking at the woman, and lists the courtesies she has shown Him in sharp contrast to Simon’s lack of warmth. It is quite an indictment, and we seem drawn towards condemning the host whom we are inclined to label as the villain of the story. In doing so, we would miss the point ― and could well fall into the same trap he did. We do not have enough information to judge him without jumping to conclusions. He failed on this occasion, but Our Lord reflected this to him firmly without condemnation. He left the door open for Simon’s repentance. What follows is for Simon’s sake as well as for the woman’s.

As Our Lord draws attention to the woman’s actions, it is clear that nothing she did is considered in the slightest way excessive. Her behaviour is merely a reflection of the true value she puts on being delivered by the word of this Prophet from a life of misery and enslavement. She saw herself rescued from foul bondage and nothing ― absolutely nothing ― was too much to do for Him! And it did not matter to her who thought she was foolish, too demonstrative or emotional.

Verses 47 and 48

“So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence,
she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is
forgiven, loves little.”

“He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven’.”

The depth to which this woman has been forgiven is manifest in the height to which she displays her love and gratitude. It is unique. Our Lord has openly displayed how happily He received her response to His forgiveness. He then declares what had already taken place before the evening’s events ― “Your sins are forgiven.” He could just as reasonably have said, “Welcome back into the family.”

Sadly this passage ― verse 50 in particular ― has been a battle ground for those wishing to establish or refute the doctrine that we are “justified by faith alone.” The plain truth about this incident is that the penitent woman is full of  love, gratitude, hope and faith: all focussed on Our Lord. As we will see, Jesus acknowledges not some academic concept of faith ― some definition she adhered to ― but her total trust in Him. This is a pure and holy response to the word she has heard from Him; and He is profoundly moved.

Verses 49 and 50

“The others at table said to themselves, ‘Who is this who
even forgives sins?’

But he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you;
go in peace’.”

We wouldn’t want to criticise the other guests for thinking quietly, “What have we got here?”

Our Lord simply draws the incident to a conclusion by saying ― as it would have been heard by the penitent woman ― “You are saved, (or God has saved you) because you have believed my teaching.”

Then with a gesture of the hand He imparts His blessing: “Shalom!” This one word said all she has ever hoped for.

 “Go now in the the peace and harmony you have desperately
sought after for so long. They are yours for the rest of your life!”

 

Concluding Thoughts.

Our Lord, in commencing the establishment of His Church, is well aware that sound religion produces saints, but even Biblical religion can be hijacked by those who think they are superior, and who thus become on obstacle in the spreading of God’s plan of restoration. He met this in Judaism and also foresaw it always being a danger for His followers. It would not be wise for us to point the finger in any direction except our own. A commentator on this passage sums it up with appropriate advice to steer us away from self righteousness.

The great lesson of the whole transaction taking together the signs
of contrition in the woman and the Lord’s approval of them, is this,
that the publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom of God before
the self-righteous; that God may make even gross sinners monuments
of His mercy (as He did St. Augustine), whilst men who live decent
and respectable lives may be far from God through pride, through
selfishness, through coldness arising from indifference ― that
indifference having its root in self-satisfaction and a desire to remain
as they are rather than to come nearer to God.                  Sadler.

After all is said and done we have in this account a wonderful story of a person restored to life ― abundant LIFE (Jeremiah 29: 11. John 10: 10)

In the mission left to us by Jesus Messiah: “Proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16: 15), we dare not write off people as beyond the reach of Our Lord’s message. The penitent woman, in our Scripture passage could well have had the most tragic early youth ― perhaps even being sold by her parents in desperate circumstances ― and thus immersed in a life of impurity from which she could not escape. (Sadler). Later in life, by God’s grace, she hears Our Lord teaching His message, and this awakens a sense of sin and at the same time a sense of goodness and virtue. She responds with an open mind and heart. As a result, she is not just restored to life ― she is given a new life. She is fully aware of this and nothing can stop her pouring out her love and gratitude to the One she knows has brought her this precious gift.

Meditating on the power of Jesus Messiah’s Word can fill us, likewise, with the same faith, hope and love. When it does we will not be able to suppress it ― we will feel urged to share this treasure with all who will receive it. That can be no surprise, for it is exactly what Jesus Messiah has commissioned His Church and each of its members to do while they await His promised return at the end of time.

Shalom!

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Ordinary 11 ― Year C

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus is the real answer to the real needs of the world.

    Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
    remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating how you
    can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going reflection.

 

The Penitent Women

Ordinary Sunday 11 Year C St. Luke 7: 36 — 50

1. Simon, the learned Pharisee, was a fair man ― though somewhat judgmental.
He had been impressed by Our Lord’s rabbinic teaching and was prepared to listen
to Him and make his own mind up about this young Rabbi known as Yeshua
(Jeshua ― an alternative to Joshua). When he saw the woman of low reputation
touch his guest he committed two errors. First he allowed his prejudice to judge
the woman, and secondly he reasoned that Jesus could not be a prophet (a man
of God) if He didn’t know to keep her at a distance. He interpreted the woman’s
joy and loving attentions as further evidence of her debauchery.

We, too, can easily make similar errors unless we learn to see others as our
Lord sees them ― as people He wants to bring into His kingdom, through us.

2. Nothing in all Sacred Scripture quite matches the apparent sensational
attentions heaped on Our Lord by this woman who is not just reformed but
recreated in the image and likeness of God. All because she has heard the
Word of the Lord and confessed her total unworthiness, and thus opened the
way to complete restoration ― and more besides! This has to be a lesson for us
all ― to encourage us in learning to listen to Him and seeking His gift of
transformation ― to be like Him and to be His representative in our everyday
life.

3. The early Christians cared little for any judgment cast upon them for sharing
with others what Jesus Messiah has done for them. They did it and took
whatever came their way in response. This is a challenge but it is the way the
Church ― Christ’s Body ― has always grown. Our first step is to keep close to
Him by way of our public and private worship ― in our churches and at home
in our Scripture reflections and meditation. We too will, in all certitude,
experience genuine intimacy with the Lord. He will impart His blessing to us and
keep us close to Him. He knows we need to hear the same blessing He bestowed
on the penitent woman:

“Go now in the peace and harmony you have so desperately sought after for so
long. They are yours for the rest of your life.”

Shalom!

Click here for a printable copy of this Reflection

 

Luke 7: 36 ― 50
Ordinary 11 Year C

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

36     10 11 A Pharisee invited him to dine with him, and he entered the
         Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.

37     Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was
         at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask
         of ointment,

38     she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his
         feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed
         them, and anointed them with the ointment.

39     When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to
         himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and
         what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a
         sinner.”

40     Jesus said to him in reply, “Simon, I have something to say to
         you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41     “Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five
         hundred days’ wages 12 and the other owed fifty.

42     Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both.
         Which of them will love him more?”

43     Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was
         forgiven.” He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

44     Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see
         this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me
         water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and
         wiped them with her hair.

45     You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my
         feet since the time I entered.

46     You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet
         with ointment.

47     So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has
         shown great love. 13 But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves
         little.”

48     He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49     The others at table said to themselves, “Who is this who even
         forgives sins?”

50     But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

10 [36-50] In this story of the pardoning of the sinful woman Luke presents two different reactions to the ministry of Jesus. A Pharisee, suspecting Jesus to be a prophet, invites Jesus to a festive banquet in his house, but the Pharisee’s self-righteousness leads to little forgiveness by God and consequently little love shown toward Jesus. The sinful woman, on the other hand, manifests a faith in God (⇒ Luke 7:50) that has led her to seek forgiveness for her sins, and because so much was forgiven, she now overwhelms Jesus with her display of love; cf the similar contrast in attitudes in ⇒ Luke 18:9-14. The whole episode is a powerful lesson on the relation between forgiveness and love.

11 [36] Reclined at table: the normal posture of guests at a banquet. Other oriental banquet customs alluded to in this story include the reception by the host with a kiss (⇒ Luke 7:45), washing the feet of the guests (⇒ Luke 7:44), and the anointing of the guests’ heads (⇒ Luke 7:46).

12 [41] Days’ wages: one denarius is the normal daily wage of a laborer.

13 [47] Her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love: literally, “her many sins have been forgiven, seeing that she has loved much.” That the woman’s sins have been forgiven is attested by the great love she shows toward Jesus. Her love is the consequence of her forgiveness. This is also the meaning demanded by the parable in ⇒ Luke 7:41-43.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,
revised edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine,
Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner.
All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced
in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

 

Appendix

Additional Notes: A variety of Quite Different Perceptions

J. Steinmueller (Commentary on the New Testament, 1942)

39. The Pharisee argues secretly as follows: Jesus naturally observes the
traditions of the Pharisees according to which no good man would allow
himself to be defiled by letting a sinful woman touch him; but since Jesus
allows this woman to embrace and kiss His feet, He must not know what
kind of a woman she is; hence He cannot be a true prophet, for a prophet
would be expected to have an insight into the condition of her soul. (40-50).
Jesus therefore has to refute this false conclusion of the Pharisee by
showing not only that He knows the true state of this woman’s soul but
that even from the Pharisees’ viewpoint He is justified in letting her touch
Him, because she is no longer a sinner. Christ makes Simon admit that
the greater a man’s sense of gratitude for a remitted debt, the greater will
be the signs of love that this man gives (41 — 43). He then argues from the
slight signs of love that Simon gave Him, that evidently Simon is but
slightly conscious of any spiritual debts having been remitted him by
Christ, whereas the great signs of love that this woman has given Christ
show that she is deeply grateful for the great spiritual debt that He has
cancelled for her (44 — 47). Therefore, according to the context, the most
probable and now commonly accepted interpretation of 47 is, “For this
reason, I am justified in saying to thee that her numerous sins must
have been forgiven, since she has given such great signs of her gratitude.”

Shall be forgiven her: the Greek has the perfect (i.e. past) tense of this
verb in the sense of, “have been forgiven her and now are forgiven“.
Of course, the woman must have had antecedent faith * and love in order to
have her sins forgiven, but this truth is not stated directly in the passage.
48. These words do not imply the actual moment of absolution, but rather
Christ’s encouraging assurance to the woman and a public announcement
for the benefit of the others present, that her sins had already been
forgiven
.

*   antecedant faith and love ― faith and love already existing in her soul.

 

M. F. Sadler — (Commentary on Luke, 1898)

Verses 40 ― 43

Taking what we have said into account it seems easy, for it is not the
mere money value of any debt which makes it heavy, but its pressure
upon the mind, which
depends upon the state of the heart, whether honest
or otherwise.

And so the relief felt by any sinner at the forgiveness of his sin does not
depend upon the actual amount of sin, but upon its burden, the sense of
its guilt and loathsomeness; in fact, upon the state of his heart.

And this, of course, depends upon the grace of God; for repentance,
contrition, the sense of sin as well the sense of forgiveness, depend upon
the grace of God.

Now, God is a just God, “righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His
thoughts”. Is it right, then, that He should give such a deep sense of sin,
and such a lively sense of love at its removal, to a gross sinner as this
woman, and withhold the same from a comparatively virtuous person, as
we may presume this Pharisee to have been?

The answer to this is, that in a world constituted as ours, God would not
be just if He did not; for we must take into account the difference of outward
circumstances, over which any particular sinner has no control, which may
have contributed to his sinful or vicious life. Take the case of this woman.
From what we know of the utter degradation in the matter of purity and
chastity of those times and of that country, it is not at all improbable but that
in early youth she was sold by others, perhaps by her very parents, to a life
of impurity; whilst it is very probable that the Pharisee had, through no merits
of his own, been shielded from all the evil influences which had ruined the life
of the woman. When, then, this woman was, by the word of Jesus,
awakened
to a sense of sin, and, with this, to a sense of goodness and
virtue, it was the
beginning of a new life, rather, perhaps, the
reawakening of her true life
. It was the first springing up of hope and of
holy love. She owed it to the Lord Himself, and so it would seem to her a
very small tribute of gratitude to wash His feet with her tears and wipe them
with her hair; whereas the guilt of the Pharisee was, that having been brought
up under comparatively better influences, and without all doubt having been
carefully instructed in the letter of the Word of God, he was really indifferent
to the goodness of God, for he viewed with no thankfulness the signs of
penitence and a return to virtue in a fellow sinner, and he could debate in his
mind whether one who thought and performed the mightiest acts of mercy,
as did the Lord ― whether such as He were even so much as a prophet,
because He suffered returning penitents to touch His feet.

Such, it seems, is the relation of the teaching to the penitent women and to
Simon.

The great lesson of the whole transaction, taking together the signs of
contrition in the woman and the Lord’s approved of them, is this, that the
publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom of God before the
self-righteous; that God may make even gross sinners monuments of
His
mercy (as He did with St. Augustine), whilst men who live decent and
respectable lives may be far from God through pride, through selfishness,
through coldness arising from indifference — that indifference having its
root in self-satisfaction and a desire to remain, as they are rather than to
come nearer to God.

Verses 44 ― 46.And he turned to the woman, and said auto Simon,
Seest when this woman? I entered ….. hath anointed my feet with
ointment
.” I think those are wrong who suppose that Simon had intentionally
slighted our Lord in not offering Him these acts of courtesy. One who had
written a life of our Lord with the special view of illustrating it from Jewish
customs and observances (Edersheim) says, “To wash the feet of a guest,
to give him the kiss of welcome, and especially to anoint him, were not,
indeed, necessary attentions at a feast. All the more did they indicate special
care, attention, and respect.” Simon, if this be true, had not been intentionally
rude and discourteous to the Lord. He had merely contented himself with
offering Him the customary commonplace civility due to an ordinary guest,
not the affectionate welcome due to an honoured one. It is important to
remember this, for Simon received the Lord with doubt, as one who might he
a prophet, but it was uncertain: whereas the woman treated the Lord as the
Prophet whose word had delivered her from the misery of a sinful life; and so
Simon took no account of the signs of contrition in the conduct of the woman,
and all but pronounced the Lord to be no prophet because He graciously
received them. The mighty works of mercy which Simon must have known,
or be would not have invited a poor man like the Lord at all, did not make him
welcome the Lord as any messenger from God ought to have been
welcomed; whereas the words of Christ, which had rescued the woman from
the bondage of sin, bowed her whole soul before Him in utter humiliation.

Such is the innermost teaching of the incident, the difference which the true
sense of sin makes in the attitude of the whole soul towards Christ.

Christ cannot be treated familiarly and on terms of equality by one who has
a spark of true and genuine penitence. He cannot be debated about, whether
he be this or that. No. The penitent soul will fall down before Him, will
kiss
His feet, will lavish upon Him all that is costly, all that expresses
shame,
humility, devotion, self-denial, as well as love.


Commentary on the Gospels, by Ronald Knox, 1952.
(Any emphasis ours)

Verses 47 ― 50 (Main focus is verse 47)

The story is somewhat breathlessly told; the Pharisee, who has been
anonymous in verses 36 and 39, suddenly acquires a name in verses 40,
43 and 44; at the beginning of verse 41 there is no rubric to mark the
change of speaker. There is a certain awkwardness, too, in the run of the
last three sentences of the chapter. It is as if, for some reason, the passage
had not been very carefully worked over. This should perhaps be borne in
mind when we are considering the vexed question of verse 47.

Does this verse mean that man’s love is the motive of God’s forgiveness, or
that God’s forgiveness is the motive of man’s love? The older and simpler
explanation is that which lies on the surface: “Her many sins have been
forgiven her, for the reason that she has loved much.” But how can this
explanation be reconciled with the context? The second half of the verse
does not say, as we should have expected, “He who loves little, has little
forgiven him”; it says “He who has little forgiven him, loves little”. And the
parable is concerned, not with a money-lender who remitted a great debt
because the client treated him so lovingly, but with a money-lender who won
his client’s love by remitting a great debt. In a word, the context demands
that verse 47 should be read, somehow, the other way round. It must mean,
somehow, that the woman is already forgiven, and knows it; that is the
explanation of her gesture and of her gift.

Some modern editors, accordingly, propose the interpretation, “She has
loved much (as you see), and that is my ground for informing you that her
many sins must have been forgiven” — i.e., she could not be so loving
unless she were pardoned already. What has won her pardon, they tell
us, is faith (compare with verse 50), not precisely love. But this explanation
does violence to the whole structure of the sentence. If our Lord had already
said “She is forgiven” and then added “Look how loving she is, that is why
I am telling you she is forgiven”, it would have been well enough; compare
with John 6: 66, 16: 15. But the fact of the penitent’s forgiveness has not yet
been announced; the operative verb is therefore “have been forgiven her”,
and “I tell thee” is merely parenthetic — which is fatal to the theory under
discussion.

We might, indeed, suppose the sentence to mean, “Many sins have been
forgiven her, that she should love so much” (i.e., if you want to know why
she loves so much); this is the construction in John 2: 18 and perhaps
John 9: 7 the “epexegetic” construction. But the text, it must be observed,
does not say “Many sins have been forgiven her”; it says “her many sins
have been forgiven her”, which ruins (on this shewing) the emphasis. We
are thus driven to re-examine the plain surface meaning, “Her many sins
have been forgiven her because she loved much”, and read it in a light which
will make it harmonize with its context.

The mistake we make is to suppose that gratitude for sin forgiven is
the question; but it is not that, it is consciousness of sin needing to
be forgiven that is really in our Lord’s mind.
To be sure, the parable
sits loosely to its application, as our Lord’s parables often do. In the parable,
the remission of the debt is a fait accompli, and the love is explained by
gratitude for an act of grace already in being. But in the application there is
no fait accompli; the forgiveness is not conveyed until verse.

48. The penitent’s gesture is not one of gratitude for an act of grace
already in being, but one of confident hope in an act of grace which
lies in the future
. Because the Pharisee has little consciousness of need,
he loved little; because the Magdalen has great consciousness of need,
she loves much. And because her love (or her faith, which you will) is so
great she will find pardon, like the Prodigal Son, like the Publican in the
temple; whereas for Simon, with his little love, there is little forgiveness to
expect.

This seems, on the whole, to be the most satisfactory explanation of a
passage which still presents difficulties, however interpreted. The
rendering “If ….. she has also” is meant to allow for diversities of view on
the subject. (See notes below.)

Note from Ronald Knox’s TranslationVerse 47
“And so I tell thee, if great sins have been
forgiven her, she has also been greatly loved.”

This may mean that the woman has shewn great love because she has
been forgiven much, or that the woman has been forgiven much because
she has shewn great love. The former interpretation seems to fit in with
the parable which goes before, and with the sentence which immediately
follows; the latter has the authority of the older commentators.

 

C. J. Callan, O.P. (The Four Gospels)

Verse 47.
Many sins are forgiven her, (aphentai) etc.; i.e., have been forgiven
her
#, because she hath loved much. The perfect charity of Mary, founded
on faith in the power and goodness of our Lord, which prompted her to
come to Him and perform towards Him those several acts of courtesy and
love, had already obtained for her the remission of her sins. It was her
longing for God, her earnest desire for forgiveness, and her hatred of her
sins, which constituted that love which the Saviour here assigns as the
cause, or at least the necessary condition, of the pardon which Mary had
obtained, before she had begun to anoint our Lord.

#   forgiven ― dismissed (sins): used regarding the discharge or acquittal of a
defendant where the guilty person is dealt with as though innocent. (Bullinger)

It is doing violence to the text and to the ordinary meaning of the Greek
connective (oti ― because) to maintain, as some do, that the love of
Mary
here spoken of was the consequence, and not the cause, or
condition, of the forgiveness granted to her by our Lord.
Without
doubt, Mary’s love, in gratitude for the forgiveness, was far greater than
that of the proud Pharisee, who had little sense of his own condition; but
in her case, the Saviour speaks only of the love which preceded her
pardon; whereas in the case of the Pharisee He alludes exclusively, in
the present verse, to the love which follows forgiveness, “but to whom
less is forgiven, he loveth less”. 

 

Charles Gore  (New Commentary on Holy Scripture, 1928)

Verse 47
We are to understand the loving act of the woman as the outcome of her
sense of forgiveness — which she may perhaps have received only as she
listened to the preaching of Jesus. Here we have only the public
announcement of her absolution. The forgiveness is represented
distinctly in 47 as the cause, not the result, of her loving action
.
The host is presumably suggested by the one ‘who loveth little,’ because
in his own estimation he had little need of forgiveness. The beautiful story
requires little comment, but deep consideration. There has been
controversy over this passage as to the relation of faith and love in
winning forgiveness. But the lesson of the passage as of many others,
is that the faith which does not inevitably issue in love is no real faith
such as Jesus blessed. We notice again and again the welcome which
He gives to acts of love.

 

J. A. Kleist, S. J. (The New Testament ― 1952)

7: 47. Simon condemned the woman as “a scandal in the town” (verse 39).
Jesus undertakes to rebuke him for this rash judgment, which, in typical
Pharisaical fashion (see John 8: 15), was based on appearances. He does
this by means of an illustration from ordinary life. A debtor, whose debt has
been cancelled, shows his gratitude by “loving” his creditor. In such a case,
the remission of the debt precedes the love, as the cause precedes the
effect. Applying this principle to the conduct of the woman on the present
occasion, Jesus says: “in consideration of this” (that is, the many tokens
of love given by the woman), “I tell you: many sins have been forgiven her.
How do I know this? Because she has loved so much.” This interpretation
is demanded by the parable, fits in well with the words that follow, and is
compatible with the text, provided we consider it an instance of

brachylogy # common in Greek literature. In reading the text we merely
insert a pause before the words: “Because she has loved much.” The
parable loses much of its force unless we keep in mind the proper
balancing of cause and effect. There is, however, a widespread
interpretation which reverses the process: many sins are forgiven her
because she loved much. One may admit that a slight inversion of the order
does not at once make a parable nugatory * The views of the Fathers are
divided in explaining this text. In the second interpretation, the woman’s
sins were forgiven both because of her faith (see verse 50) and of her love
(verse 47). This tallies with Galatians 5: 5 ― 6. “Our hope of justification
…… rests on faith ….. the faith that finds expression in love.”

The application of the parable to Simon himself is somewhat unexpected,
almost a casual remark thrown in, though a much needed lesson.
Note that the word “little” in this context is probably a delicate
euphemism for “nothing”; and so the upshot of the discourse is that the
woman is a saint, and Simon a sinner.                     
J. A. Kleist, S. J.

#    brachylogy ― A brachylogy is an intended brevity in a speech or text, possibly
                               an over-
concise abridgement. The common example given by
                               dictionaries is the
omission of “good” in the greeting “evening”.
                               The listener unconsciously
supplies the missing word. But the
                               feature can occur in much more complex
situations.

Care has to be taken reading a modern English version of a 2,000 year old
Greek text where, frequently, terms and associated references were taken
as
read. Any doctrine based on a text, ignoring this feature of the language,
could be significantly distorted.

*    nugatory ― invalid.

 

Reflection: — Don Schwager

Why did a rabbi invite Jesus to a nice dinner and then treat him
discourteously by neglecting to give him the customary signs of respect and
honor? Simon was very likely a collector of celebrities. He patronised Jesus
because of his popularity with the crowds, then he criticised Jesus’
compassionate treatment of a “bad woman.”

The Pharisees shunned the company of “public sinners” and in so doing they
neglected to give them the help they needed to find healing and wholeness.
Mary’s action was motivated by one thing, and one thing only, namely, her
love for Jesus and her gratitude for forgiveness. She did something, a Jewish
woman would never do in public. She loosed her hair and anointed Jesus
with her tears. It was customary for a woman on her wedding day to bound
her hair. For a married woman to loosen her hair in public was a sign of grave
immodesty. Mary also did something which only love can do. She took the
most precious thing she had and spent it all on Jesus. Her love was not
calculated but extravagant. In a spirit of humility and heart-felt repentance,
she lavishly served the one who showed her the mercy and kindness of God.

In the parable Jesus told, the man could neither believe in love, accept it
or give it. Who is to be pitied most, those who cannot receive love or those
who cannot give love? Jesus makes it clear that great love springs from a
heart forgiven and cleansed.

The stark contrast of attitudes between Simon and the woman of ill-repute,
demonstrate how we can either accept or reject God’s mercy. Simon, who
regarded himself as an upright Pharisee, felt no need for love or mercy.
His self-sufficiency kept him from acknowledging his need for God’s grace.

                                                                              (Adapted in part from Don Schwager)

 

Joseph Dillersberger (The Gospel of St. Luke)
(Translated from German 1958)

THE TIME OF GRACE FOR WOMEN

THE SINNER

And one of the Pharisees desired him to eat with him. And he went
into the house of the Pharisee, and sat down to meat. And behold
a woman …..                                                          (Luke 7:36 ― 50)

A new section of the “acceptable year of the Lord” begins in Galilee.
Women begin to be mentioned. More than ever it becomes clear that this
Evangelist of grace dealt with what is most profound in woman and in
grace and that to him the two can be most intimately connected.

The story itself is as vivid as any that even St. Luke tells in the life of Jesus.
The custom of reclining at a meal made it easier for the woman to approach
from behind unobserved until she was able to cover Our Lord’s feet with
signs of her repentance and her love. Our Lord Himself enumerates all
these tokens afterwards to the Pharisee, and does not forget one: how
she washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed and
anointed His feet with precious ointment. He allowed her to do it, but the
Pharisee is shocked at heart, and Jesus’ behaviour is for him proof enough
that He is not really one of the prophets. And now the astonishing thing
happens. In a way Jesus takes up the cause of this woman who was a
sinner by a criticism of His host.

We are surprised by the care with which Jesus contrasts all these signs
of the woman’s deep love and repentance with the Pharisee’s behaviour.
Nothing is considered even slightly excessive, let alone blameworthy on
the contrary the woman’s complete humility is explained and accepted as
an expression of her deep love. In comparison the host himself sinks to
a position of inferiority, for he has not shown Our Lord one of the usual
signs of affection that every Eastern host is accustomed to offer his
guests; water, to wash the feet ; the formal welcome, which was a sort of
kiss of peace, and at least a little oil for anointing. Our Lord is able to
exalt the woman’s actions as going far beyond all this that He might have
expected from His host. Instead of the usual water, she offers the water
of her repentant tears, and more than this, dries His feet with her hair.
Instead of the formal welcome, she does not cease from the time she
comes in to kiss His feet. And even more than this, in the humility of her love
she dares to kiss only His feet, whereas it was the head that was kissed in
the formal welcome. In the Greek text Our Lord makes a clear distinction
between the hasty conventional “kiss” of welcome and this “kissing” which
is the manifestation of over-flowing love. The ointment, too, is something
far more than politeness required. Before the meal some oil was given for
the head, but this woman has poured it on His feet, and what is more, it is
costly ointment that she has used and not the usual oil. To the Pharisee
even this common oil seemed too expensive to be used for His head.

Thus in these gestures the usual signs of affection are surpassed three
separate times (and how much St. Luke loves the number three, as indeed
Our Lord also does). In all the examples, the ordinary standard of polite
custom is far surpassed. The Pharisee, who did not offer one of the usual
courtesies, is excelled beyond imagination by this woman, so that he is
put quite into the shade. It is somewhat surprising that Our Lord does not
then completely condemn him, but very mildly points out to him that he
loves less, because less is forgiven him.

If we think of the previous contrast, where it was pointed out that the Pharisee
had done nothing but the woman had done far more than could be expected,
and then consider that she is said simply to have loved “much” and the
Pharisee “less,” our surprise at this mildness on the part of Our Lord is
justified.

But this is not the only point which is not easy to comprehend at first.

The parable of the two creditors, of whom one owed a great sum and the
other only a little, and who consequently showed greater and less love
respectively, seems not quite appropriate to this case, because Our Lord
Himself later explains that much is forgiven to her because she has loved
much — and obviously her love must have preceded her forgiveness.
With the creditor, however, the forgiveness of the debt comes first, and not
until then, and as a result of it, the greater love. And in the last sentence
Our Lord reverses the order again. For following His remark about the
woman’s great love, He should logically have said, “But who loveth less,
to him less is forgiven”; but instead of this it reads, appropriately to the
parable, “But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less.”

The reasons for this remarkable hysteron-proteron #, this reversal of all
values, are somewhat deep, and the Eastern device of suggesting mystery
by such changes is not in this case an explanation of Our Lord’s procedure.
It is rather that Our Lord wants the two cases, the creditor of the parable
and the actual woman, to be taken together and so to form a symbol of the
mystery of love. For it should be obvious that all this refers to man’s
indebtedness to God. But here matters are in fact quite different from a
simple case of debt owing from one man to another, although this worldly
debt can be as a symbol of the debt to God. It would be incompatible with
God’s dignity and the nature He has bestowed upon man, for sins to be
forgiven where there is no repentance. But man cannot repent unless God
by His grace has already set repentance to work. Thus where He is to
forgive much, He must bring about much love and repentance; where less
is to be forgiven, less repentance will suffice. Sin is then forgiven
because
of the love which man has been able to show, although
only with the aid
of grace. It can be said, we are considering God’s part,
that where much is forgiven He will bestow much grace to produce love. If
we are considering man’s part, then the great love comes first, and out of
the great love comes forgiveness, just as Our Lord says. But it is likewise
true, that this great forgiveness, just because the bestowal of so much
grace was necessary, can also lead subsequently to much love, as is
shown in the parable.

#   hysteron-proteron — a reversal of the natural or logical order of things.

Only in this way can we thoroughly understand all that happened.
For
again, in another way, this gives us new light as to what grace
is. In this
woman’s love which so overflowed all measure there
becomes visible to us the overflowing abundance of Divine grace
and love which at this hour poured over the sinner. Because it was
grace it came “undeserved,” without any previous actions to merit,
upon the sinner, who had nothing but her sins. And as she
surrendered herself to this grace there surged up in her heart that
capacity for love which she had previously practised in sinful passion.
Now she is actuated by Divine grace, by a new and unparalleled
beauty and charm, which so deeply moves Our Lord that He will
not forget a single token of her love
. And so it is a moment in which
human distinctions are no longer relevant, when all combines in unity,
when from overflowing grace man’s love for God mounts up and at the
same time forgiveness results and so releases a new outpouring of grace
and love, a continual kissing of the Beloved’s feet, a surrender of oneself
in what would otherwise be meaningless tokens, which, is fact, are tokens
of new love.

There is nothing accidental in the great laws which govern human speech.
That grace and beauty are of the feminine gender in all languages is weighty
proof how much the true grace, theological grace, is granted to woman.
This, St. Luke’s Gospel has already manifested where the angel could find
no other greeting for Mary than “full of grace.” For the same reason it was
also a woman who was chosen here to make visible God’s grace and love
so great in forgiveness. What comes from her heart at this moment, we
suspect, is the highest love of which a man or a woman is capable. All
impure love is removed by this token of a love born pure in grace, but it
remains love, and a woman’s love for a man. In this love she becomes an
immortal image of the Church of Christ, which is “the bride, the wife of the
Lamb” (Revelation 21: 9), “holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5: 27). For so
infinitely tender and gracious is God’s forgiving love that under its inspiration
mankind blossoms out into the loveliest grace and glory, into the immortal
beloved bride. This passage, therefore, is full of eternal beauty. Beside
Mary full of grace from the beginning there now comes the sinner who has
been forgiven. For she who was indeed full of grace bore witness that there
was to be a new order, that of grace. But grace and sin cannot live together.
So her sins, which were many, were forgiven her, because she loved so much.

End of article

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