instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, September 19, 2020

A Very Certain Pharisee

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

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.

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.”

Isn't that last bit strange? A sinful woman crashes a Pharisee's party, then cries, wipes, kisses, and anoints all over the feet of his out-of-town guest, and what does the Pharisee say to himself?

"Now here's something you don't see every day."? No.

"Note to self: In future, prevent guests from being assaulted by notorious sinners."? No.

"What the heck is she doing?"? No.

All he manages is, "She's a sinner, so he's no prophet."

That's heavy duty interpretive bias. That's some kind of certainty about what's happening, even though what's happening is surely nothing he has ever seen before.

In Simon the Pharisee's mind, this sinful woman is securely categorized as "sinner," and nothing and nobody is going to earn her a reconsideration. He looks at her and sees nothing but SINNER. He doesn't see her penitence. He doesn't see her adoration. In fact, that SINNER is so strong it blinds him to everything it touches, including Simon's guest. (Though apparently Simon's house, to say nothing of himself, remains pure.)

St. Luke doesn't tell us how Simon responded to Jesus' rebuke, so we might hope that he himself wound up penitent and adoring. As we might hope for ourselves, if and when we happen to be too certain of our own righteousness and the sinfulness of another.