We take a break from our Lenten Devotions to celebrate International Women’s Day by remembering one of the bold, brazen women in the Bible.
Simon the Pharisee knew it. Probably everyone who had gathered at the dinner knew it. This woman was a sinner! She was a woman of ill-repute, she was tainted, she was unclean. And in that culture, her presence and her proximity to you would make you unclean as well.
The ancient Jews had a whole lot of laws about ritual purity and cleanliness. Rules about the kinds of people with whom you should and could associate. There were rules about how men and women interacted. Rules about what and how you ate. So by barging into this dinner, this woman is breaking layers upon layers upon layers of purity laws.
Simon the Pharisee was horrified. Here he was tyring to throw a dinner party for Jesus and other important religious leaders, and this woman–this tainted woman–comes in, threatening to make all of them impure and unclean.
He would have thought quite literally—this is a nasty woman.
This was a meeting of righteous leaders—pillars—of the community. They didn’t want her anywhere near them and certainly not at their dinner table with this overly emotional display. And she had to notice. She’d probably been warned. She might even have been given an explanation. And yet she persisted. She busted in to this closed, judgemental space and burst into tears and showered Jesus with affection and anointed his feet with expensive oil and drys them with her hair. In the midst of all these people looking at her like she was something to be reviled. Finally, an oily-footed Jesus asks Simon the Pharisee
Do you see this woman?
Are you kidding? Of course Simon saw this woman. It’s a miracle he hadn’t had a heart attack by this point.
As horrified as Simon was, how could he not see? Of course he saw.
Perhaps what Jesus was really asking was, Simon, who is it that you see when you look at this woman?
This was a woman who could have made different choices. She could have talked to Jesus out on the street and told him, “hey, I believe you are the savior. I know who you are and thank you for loving me.” She could have invited him to her home. He was known to go and have dinner in strange places with the most unlikely people. She could have interacted with Jesus in any number of ways, but she chose to barge in to a place where she was not welcome, where she was not wanted and extravagantly demonstrate her understanding of who Jesus was.
Jesus tells his host, you didn’t do any of this for me. You didn’t wash my feet. You didn’t anoint me with oil. You really have done nothing to make me feel welcome, but this woman has done everything she possibly can. Simon’s probably not a bad guy. He’s probably someone we should remember. He’s the only Pharisee who actually gets a name in the scriptures. Simon the Pharisee. He was probably really important. He just didn’t quite get it.
And we don’t know if he ever did. I like to believe that the rest of this story is that Simon’s eyes were opened by what happened. And that he, too, saw Jesus. And more than just a nasty woman.
On this International Women’s Day, let this unnamed, bold, obtrusive, extravagant woman be your spirit guide. Reflect on how it is in your life that you are extravagantly demonstrating your love and appreciation for Jesus. How are you showing others how much you love Jesus? And no putting up on FB—I am not asheamed to call Jesus my Lord and Savior, and I bet 90 percent of the people will nto repost this. That does not count. You’re welcome to do that, but what we’re talking about here is something more than a social media post.
May we be people who boldly and extravagantly express our love for Jesus Christ. May we be wiliing to sit with people who don’t agree with us and don’t even like us. And may we really see people and not let our own prejudices and labels keep us from sharing, experiencing and receiving the love of Christ and our neighbor.
–Rev. Anne Russ