Luke 7:36-8:3 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And 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. She 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. Now 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." Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "Speak." "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then 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. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, 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." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
Reflection I, the penitent said, “I confess to Almighty God, to God’s Church, and to you, that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed, in things done and left undone; especially __________ “ at which point I began to read my magnum opus of transgressions. Hot tears delivered rivers of mascara to my chin. The priest to whom I spoke never flinched. Choking out the final words I handed the two damnable pages to him and continued. “For these and all other sins which I cannot now remember, I am truly sorry. I pray God to have mercy on me. I firmly intend amendment of life, and I humbly beg forgiveness of God and the Church, and ask you for counsel, direction, and absolution.”
What have I done? Raised in a strict puritanical household where just about anything thought, said or done could be construed as sinful and grist for the mill of the Divine Judge, when I learned that the Episcopal Church I was joining offered a Rite of Reconciliation, a pastoral rite offered to anyone who desires to be set free from the oppressive power of sin I thought, “This is my chance to get rid of my lifetime of baggage.” So I sat down with my IBM computer and hammered out two painfully honest single spaced pages of my offenses. For a month I reviewed my narrative, everything from leaving the Presbyterian Church when I was thirteen to look for truth in philosophy and Eastern traditions, to being a single mom, divorced with a full compliment of 70s experiences hidden in my heart. This was going to be my once and for all time confession so I was determined to leave nothing out!
The priest was silent. “However will I be able to walk into this church again?” Finally I heard, “The way I see it Debra, you never stopped looking for God, arguing with God. Sure, some of your adolescent behavior was well, adolescent. And your judgment has not always been the best. But Debra, that is not sin. It appears that your sin is scrupulosity.” The look on my face must have betrayed my stupor.
He continued. “You have been obsessively concerned with sin and compulsively driven to be perfect. You have not loved yourself as God loves you. Instead, you have put yourself in God’s place, acting like judge, jury and sentencer. This distorts your relationship with God and your self.” He handed me the self prejudicial pages and said, “Destroy these pages and pray for the grace to be kind and gentle with your self. Sin is failure to see yourself as God sees you which means you are not able to see others as God sees them. This leads to a false sense of separation or alienation. When you leave my office go to the chapel and pray for the grace to love yourself as God loves you.” We concluded the Rite. (BCP447-8)
Embodying the way of Jesus the priest looked to my inherent goodness, not to my offenses. He saw me in the light of Christ, with the compassionate eyes of Jesus whereas I could only see myself with the critical eyes of the Pharisee whom we meet in Luke’s parable of Jesus, the Pharisee and the woman kneeling at Jesus' feet.
The Pharisee sees the weeping woman kissing Jesus’ feet and anointing them with ointment and immediately he leaps to the judgment that the woman is a sinner and Jesus cannot possibly be a prophet because if he was he would know what kind of woman was daring to touch him. By contrast, Jesus looks at the woman and sees the deeper truth of her fundamental goodness. He treats her with compassion and dignity and she experiences God’s love. The woman’s natural response is the outpouring of extravagant love; love that is welling up from within her in gratitude for the love she is receiving.
This is reconciliation, the restoration of relationship with God, with self and with all of creation. In the overabundant grace of restored relationship the natural response is extravagant love. Love poured out without measure.
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