Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, says, “We all become a well-disguised mirror image of anything that we fight too long or too directly. That which we oppose determines the energy and frames the questions after a while. Most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in yourself, along with a very inflated self-image to boot.”
Something similar is in play, I think, when Christians, and in particular Christian preachers, read, process, and proclaim this text:
36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” 41“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
1Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 7:36-8:3)
There’s our text—one that gets really abused because it often gets preached in such a way that Jesus winds up following the exact same behavior pattern as Simon. And I have even preached it as such about 6 years ago. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of turning Jesus into Simon.
Don’t we set ourselves up to do this when we perceive the words of Jesus as a celebration of the woman and as a derogation of Simon? And should we read the text in that way, haven’t made Jesus out to be just like Simon? Twinsies!!!!
What if Jesus isn’t celebrating one through derision of the other? What if there is another option?
Is it possible that Jesus is simply reporting information—telling it plain? Could he be calling things as he sees them? Pointing out information as fact?
If we’ve painted Jesus out to behave as Simon behaves then we’ve made our Lord an insufferable prig. And that’s not Jesus. So whatever hermeneutic leads us down that path we might need to abandon altogether, shouldn’t we?
But what if our other option is to see Jesus lifting these two people up as archetypes, two patterns for living? That opens doors. That affords us the chance to see Jesus as a teacher lifting up two ways in which we live for us to consider.
Don’t we all have “Simon moments?” Don’t we all have “the woman moments?”
What do your Simon moments look like?
My Simon moments are those when:
I think only in black and white terms;
I embody my-way-or-the-highway positions;
I put my rules, ways-things-have-to-be-done, ahead of other people;
I expect Jesus to agree with me in total tacit consent;
I make Jesus into my own image, loving those I love and hating those I hate;
I let my image issues become motivators for what I think and say;
I lie about who I am out of neediness;
I push others into the margins so that I might have the center;
I know how right I am and how wrong others are.
These are the days when the wine, oil and kiss are not to be found within me. I cannot offer what I do not have. And if I had them, they’d not be offered anyhow. I’d cut myself out of community and relationship—there is no fullness of life within me, so it isn’t offered to any others. One might say, in those moments, that I haven’t opened myself to life and so I cannot open myself others.
Yes—those are my Simon moments. What do yours look like?
Together with those Simon moments we also have “the woman moments.”
The woman moments in my life are those when:
I live from celebration to celebration rather than from disappointment to disappointment;
I are living free of under the fear of judgment from myself or judgment from others;
I am spontaneous, lavish, unguarded;
I am no letting people-pleasing motivate my actions;
I am not enslaved to perfectionistic thinking and behaving;
I let myself go and embrace the person Jesus invites me to be;
I have no need to be right, no need to defend some position that 100 yrs, or even 24 hrs from now, won’t matter;
I am willing to risk, to grow, to be challenged, to fail;
I have no need to harden myself to brace for real/imagined impending disapproval.
And when I live in this way the alabaster jar that is me becomes a source of sweet oblation. This is when the real me “is in the house.” These are the moments when I am being poured out in the most authentic of ways. These are the moments when I also believe I am my most beautiful and powerful. These are the moments when inner voices are stilled and peace lays its claim on me. These are the moments when I feel that I live into this quote from Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection:
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.
Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”
In these moments there are no chains on me—I am unbounded—I’m free. I am captive to no one and no thing!
This is when we live like the woman, isn’t it?
Isn’t she living in a way to which Simon is completely lost and to which he is perhaps totally blind? Does she see in Jesus a being-made-newness that affords her a vista in which she sees the possibility of her future being filled with hope? Does she see in that vista an identity that can only be received from another? An identity that can never be attained by self and possessed by self?
She has to make Simon terribly uncomfortable as she courageously opens herself up to a being-made-new life.
We know that discomfort, too, don’t we?
For we never live as the woman only or Simon only, do we?
Aren’t we both? Isn’t that the truth of us?
So Jesus lifts before us two pattern of living life: the Simon pattern and the Woman pattern. And the room where these patterns unfold is a metaphoric “us.” We are Simon some days and the woman other days. And I’m sure that we exist in this way by intent. It’s not as if I get up and make hot tea declaring the hours before tea are “Simon” hours and the hours after tea are “the woman” hours. Do you get up and say to yourself, “before tea hours are “Simon” hours and after tea hours after are “the woman” hours?” Truly it is far more unconsciously done, isn’t it?
But, in point of fact, although this is unconsciously done, conscious effort is required to address it. Either we center ourselves toward living as a Simon or we center ourselves toward living as the woman. At the end of the day, as it was at the beginning, the choice on whom we shall be oriented is our own.
Furthermore in The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown will say:
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
Both Simon and the woman know one another. They know one another’s history. They know one another’s story. The difference between the two is that the woman is no longer bound by her story for she seeks a new one in Jesus. Her authentic self has shown up at Simon’s house. And her history is not prohibiting her from pouring her real self out.
And that is what happens when we embrace and receive that we are found, chosen, claimed, and forgiven—-we are free. A new story is ours and the history of us, which no longer holds sway over us, is impotent to write one jot of our new tale.
And isn’t that what confession, absolution, forgiveness, and penitence are all about? Isn’t that what Jesus offers us through them?
It often seems like we repeat confessions as worn out phrases, or ancient impotent incantations, and we maybe treat them as our checklist for measuring our own personal morality, but aren’t those real confessions avenues to offer us a life of being-made-newness, a new identity? A chance for the real us to show up and be present in the community of love, grace, and mercy?
The confessional and absolving avenues lead us from a history of failed hopes into a story of forgiveness. Like confession and absolution, aren’t all of Jesus miracles about identity? Don’t they move people from something to something else? Maybe they move people from a false self to a real self, too?
This text is not about Jesus becoming like Simon by Jesus playing Simon’s blame shame game. It is about Jesus exploring identity—about Jesus moving people from a false self to a real self. And we get the chance to be moved in such ways when we explore identity as we perform an Examination of Conscience, and each week as we join in Confession and Forgiveness. This is all about being made new. And through forgiveness that really means being made free.