All of us, to some extent and especially victims of sexual abuse, pretend to be someone else to avoid being seen as anything less than a normal, well-adjusted person, who is worthy of love and respect.
There is an amazing and even startling story in the gospel of Luke (chapter 7:36-50) about a “Sinful woman” most likely even a prostitute, who crashes a dinner party, desperate to find and somehow thank the man who had made her feel human again for the first time in as long as she could remember, the carpenter from Nazareth who was passing through her town.
She brings along her only possession worth anything, a bottle of perfume she had saved up for but when she arrives she doesn’t know what to do, everyone is staring and whispering, she doesn’t care, here he is, she starts to sob. Her tears are falling on his feet as he reclines at the table so she does the unthinkable, she gets down and wipes his grimy feet with her own hair. —Scandalous.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Luke 7
Everyone is embarrassed and offended, but not Jesus, and not the woman.
There is something very powerful going on here as she finds herself on the floor intimately washing his feet with her own tears and she now knows what she can do with the perfume, it wasn’t silly after all to lug this bottle along, and suddenly feeling overwhelmed with the love that had compelled her to bring this gift to Jesus, even at the risk of humiliation, she completes the spontaneous act of love by doing something she had never imagined doing for anyone, she willingly kisses his feet.
He has not pulled away in repulsion and she does not want this moment to end, she feels a love welling up in her breast that she has never experienced before. So she lingers face down at his feet, still too ashamed to look him in the eye yet too overwhelmed by her feeling of love to care what anyone else thinks.
Jesus turned and looked at the woman, Jesus saw her, he had no doubt seen her before and that is why she was now here. He had seen her as the person she knew in her heart that she was, the person she wanted to be, and that had empowered her to become that person. His seeing her had set her free.
And that is why this scenario playing out before them now is not scandalous at all to Jesus. Jesus is in no way being lecherous and allowing a woman to embarrass him along with all the self-righteous sensibilities of everyone there. Jesus Is not bound by cultural biases, Jesus is not tainted by the perverted carnal lust of the flesh, he doesn’t see with the eyes of generations of fallen man who sexualizes everything possible about the opposite sex. He still sees the beauty and purity of what God had originally created to be beautiful and perfect.
Jesus was seeing this woman with his heart, his heart is pure therefore there is no lust involved. Remember the garden, what Genesis says about Adam and Eve? “they were naked and unashamed?” Man was not created full of selfish lust; we took that on ourselves later. As the perfect man, Jesus was seeing her with a heart of purity, and he could see her heart–she was beautiful, she was loving—she was a person. And now he is challenging Simon to do the same. “Simon, do you see this woman?” Stop looking at her with the eyes of your flesh, with the eyes of judgement and perverted perceptions, stop seeing her with disgust and thinly veiled lust—see her heart!
She is doing what she is doing out of love, she is doing what you failed to do because you failed to see who it is here before you, you failed to see me—she has not, and because of that, her many sins are forgiven, she has found peace.
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Luke 7
She sees me because I saw him. Isn’t that what saving faith is, him knowing me, and I knowing him?
Jesus tells her: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Now this sends the religious in the room into a tizzy. “Who does he think he is and what has she done to deserve forgiveness!?”
Well, he is God, that’s who. And she has not done anything, really, she has not proven her loyalty, her obedience, she has not submitted or done any penance, she has not even confessed or spoken a word that we know of for that matter—yet she was forgiven, more than forgiven, saved. Because what she did do was show her love and gratitude in the most sincere and honest way she knew how.
She has given up on pretending long ago. We don’t know her story but it’s not hard to guess. It is likely that she was forced into this lifestyle, an adolescent girl who may have been assaulted and left soiled rendering her unfit for marriage in a culture who placed a young girl’s virginity at the top of the list for marriage criteria, as Jesus’ own mother found out. She may have been sold into prostitution by her own parents who valued money more than her. She may have been forced by debt into the companionship business as an indentured servant or even outright slavery in this Roman province, in the Roman Empire if you were not a citizen proper, you were just as likely to be a slave. She may have even stolen this perfume from her master, more holy irony.
Either way, she felt left with no other options, no one would ever see her again as anything other than a sinful woman. She was just an object to be used for selfish pleasure or to be scorned as beyond redemption and surely deserving of reproach—the more reproach the better—she doesn’t deserve anything more.
Then comes the teacher from Nazareth. He sees her, he sees the scared little girl that has long ago hidden behind the painted eyes and exotic dress of her trade. He sees beyond the mask of lewdness forced through a tincture of stubborn hardness and anger. He sees the pain and humility—he sees the tenderness that has looked desperately for an outlet, for a heart that would return the love she longed to set free—that cried at night when no one was around and she could no longer ignore it; ‘What have I done to deserve this? Why won’t anyone help me, why can’t anyone see the real me?’
Simon—do you see this woman?
No doubt this startled the woman, her first instinctual reaction would have been at this point; “No, don’t look at me, I can’t stand the way people look at me!” Jesus changed that.
Jesus saw her and she was forever changed.
Who is he asking you to see?