Do you see this woman?
That's the question of this passage...
The question Jesus asks Simon – who has been making it very clear by his disapproval that he does both see and has already judged this uninvited guest who is making such a scene....
Do you see this woman?
On one level, of course we all see her.
She's there centre stage, held forever in the spotlight as she kneels at the feet of her Lord.
If this was a bid for attention, she was certainly successful, as we remember her almost 2000 years later.
This is her story, isn't it?
The story of the woman with the ointment.
But do you see this woman?
What if you had been there, among the crowd, when she burst in – loud, distraught, deeply embarassing?.
Would you have seen her – or failed to get beyond the discomfort that her sudden entrance produced?
My guess is that most of us would have tried our utmost NOT to see her....hoped that by ignoring her she would somehow get the message and vanish quietly
Over the years we have all become adept at selective blindness...
We see the things we want to see and ignore all the rest...
We see the angelically smiling toddler, but not young adult with cerebral palsy whose wheelchair we make room for on the pavement;
we see the young lovers full of hope and beauty but not the disshevelled woman with bruises on her face; we see the captain of industry but not the rough sleeper reeking of cheap cider and other things that are even worse...
We see what we can bear to look at – and as the poet said “human kind cannot bear too much reality”.
So it is that we praise God for beauty, but miss his healing presence in brokenness.
But if we're only willing to open our eyes we'll find God there among the broken, for this is the place of healing, the place of forgiveness.
Today is a special one for our parishes, since M. begins his new ministry as a priest among us. One of the tasks of priesthood is, I think, to act as a sign-post – pointing out where God is at work, showing where Christ is to be found.
At yesterday's ordinations, after Bishops and clergy had laid their hands on the deacons to be made priest, and we had all surrounded them with our prayers, calling down the Holy Spirit upon them, Bishop Michael anointed their hands marking the sign of the cross in oil on each palm as a sign of their calling
“to reconcile and bless”
Reconciliation,forgiveness and blessing – important words for Christians, words that point to places where we surely find Jesus, time after time after time.
So part of M's calling, part of the calling for each of us, is to put ourselves in those places of brokenness, and try to see.
To see beyond the erratic behaviour and embarrassing difference, and recognise the precious child of God and then to reach out with love.
To discern Christ's own presence in the broken, and then kneel in service at their feet.
And, perhaps hardest of all, to understand that there is forgiveness for us, that we too are loved, in all our failures and disappointments...that we too are included in the great reconciliation that Christ offers to all.
There is an irony in our gospel passage, since Simon thinks
"If Jesus really knew this woman, he would treat her differently" - but of all those present, only Jesus does know her, only Jesus can see into her heart.
So though Simon fails to see the woman, Jesus does.
Jesus sees her in all her fragile potential...For him she is not a social problem, not an unwelcome interruption in his real business of talking theology with the important folk at the table.
Jesus sees her – in her sin, in her brokenness, and most of all in her love.
And, seeing her, he acknowledges the truth of who she is, and this changes her.
That’s the crux of the passage, for me.
The unnamed woman who pours out her precious ointment on Jesus feet and bathes them with her tears has been transformed by her contact with Jesus.
We're not told if she has been following him, listening to him for months...
We're not told if they've had long conversations in which she poured out all her hopes, fears and disappointments.
But we know that she now has the courage to believe she can serve...She sees herself in a new light, the light of love and forgiveness.
She is no longer defined by her past - as a sinner...but looks towards a future of acceptance and hope.
Stuck in his self righteous rut, Simon the Pharisee can't see that...nor can he see that he's every bit as needy, every bit as sinful himself.
Like David, before he heard the parable of the ewe-lamb, his self-knowledge is distinctly limited.
He's convinced that he's getting most things right - but even when judged as a dinner-party host he's not doing too well.
He can’t even extend the normal gracious signs of hospitality to Jesus.
How can God’s life-changing, forgiving power take root in him?
The doors and windows to his soul are firmly locked against it, and those locked doors don’t just prevent God’s forgiveness getting in, they also prevent Simon the Pharisee getting out, growing into his full potential as a flawed but forgiven child of God.
Presented with the route to freedom, it seems that he chooses to remain chained...
Having little sense of his need for forgiveness, he cannot receive it - and so he is like the debtor forgiven little, who loves little.
In this gospel, it's not the weeping woman who needs our pity - but the man who can't see himself at all.
Do you see this woman?
Needy, broken, locked in...a bit like us, perhaps.
And do you see her as a guest at God's table, a lover welcomed home by the beloved.
Do you see yourself there?
Are you free to sit and eat?