Then read the story in Luke 7:36-50.
Jesus is at the home of a Pharisee - you know, those ones that are all suave and seemingly put together on the outside, but resemble a white-washed tomb? The ones whose lips ooze pious religious phrases that sound perfect and pedantic, but whose hearts are a million miles away. The Pharisees who did much for show to create and maintain an image more than to bear one.
And in the midst of this dinner - no doubt with the finest food and tableware out to impress Jesus - comes a very unimpressive (except for her conspicuous sinfulness) woman. A woman who, because of her lifestyle and behavior (perhaps even her gender and ethnicity) was a social outcast. For a Pharisee who daily thanked God that he was neither a Gentile nor a woman, this was far outside the bounds of proper social decorum. She interrupts the "boys club," disregards the sneers and gasps of incredulity and proceeds to pour out perfume upon Jesus feet. Without rushing she methodically wipes his feet over and over with her hair and tears, which is a public display of intimate affection from which most of us, even today, would likely avert our eyes.
With a smug and snide demeanor, the host imposes his judgment not only on the woman, but on Jesus for allowing "this kind" of woman to touch him (Luke 7:39). Jesus, proceeds to tell a story about moneylenders and debtors (which in itself is interesting commentary on where the Pharisee's true heart was for in order to connect to the religious Pharisee's heart, Jesus has to use a story about money. Hmmm....)
The gist of the story was that the money lender canceled the debt of two people - one who owed 50 denari and the other who owed 500. "Which do you think will love (agapao) the money lender more?"
(Why in a story about money lenders does Jesus use the word agape?)
The Simon the Pharisee responds, "The one who had the larger debt."
And indeed, Jesus proceeds to point out that this outpouring of affection from this "sinful" woman was precisely because she understood the gravity of her shortcomings and failure, and the generosity of the canceling of her debt of it!
"Simon, do you see this woman?" seems almost comical - of course he sees her. How could you miss her? His persnickety response indicates that he not only sees her, but is outraged at her behavior! But Jesus is asking Simon a deeper question: "Do you see her..." Do you see her as a human being? Do you see the love in her. I want to tell you where that love comes from.
It comes not from following religious rules. It comes not from her station in life, her social poise, nor her choices, her reputation or her spiritual habits and disciplines. Quite simply, the "moral" of the story says that her love for Jesus came because she realized her depravity and the generosity of the One who could forgive. True Agape Love is born out of forgiveness: "S/he who is forgiven little loves little." The implication: "S/he who is forgiven much loves much."
Sometimes I read this story and I wonder - do I demonstrate, even at embarrassing cost to myself, my utter gratitude for the canceling of my sin debt? If not, is it because I don't realize the gravity of my sin by thinking/saying things like, "Well, I haven't murdered anyone" or "I'm not as bad as him." I can so easily justify my sin and avoid grieving how far my heart often is from him. Until I do, I will be placid in my devotion toward Him and others.
I desire and can strive in "religious" type disciplines and traditions to try and become a more loving person. But perhaps, it is less in the striving and more in the reflection of coming before the One who can forgive, letting Him point out and invite me to let Him forgive what I am utterly unable to overcome by my own actions or merit that will breed Love in my heart and deeds.
Again, I think that is part of what Lent is about. Choosing to order my life and free up some space so I can intentionally, with the Compassionate One, reflect upon my sin, my limitations, my failures, my neediness. And to bring them before God all sloppily and soberly. And he sits there and lets me weep on his feet. And forgives me. Not just 2000 years ago on a cross - but today. In this moment. For this moment's need.
And my heart, which is given this "aphiemi" (greek for forgiveness), feels more unbound and set free to love vs. judge. Can't explain it - but I experience it daily and it is beautiful!