Love Wins Out Over Everything
In the Gospel Reading, a woman crashes a dinner party hosted for Jesus by Simon the Pharisee. All the people at the party think of her as a sinner; whatever she may be guilty of, she is certainly shamed in this community. And at this party she goes on to treat Jesus in ways that are simply scandalous. She weeps over his feet, kisses them, and anoints them with an outrageously expensive lotion; and then she wipes them clean on her hair.
Why does she do this?
In explaining to Simon what he takes to be her motivation, Jesus says her actions express great love for him. Maybe she loves him greatly because she has come to understand him as someone who will not reject her, even as the shamed person she is. Maybe the unexpected gift of the good of his love is what causes her to weep and to clean his feet with lotion and her hair.
It is worth noticing that, while she is anointing his feet, Jesus is doing nothing; he is simply a passive recipient of her action.
Doing nothing is not Jesus’ usual style; and doing nothing in these circumstances at Simon’s dinner party must take a considerable effort of will on Jesus’ part. She is, after all, making Jesus the centerpiece in a spectacle that causes the onlookers at the party to cringe.
It is easy to see, however, that Jesus protects her precisely by being passive. In fact, by being willing to receive care from her, especially care of this socially unacceptable sort, Jesus honors her.
And Jesus’ speech to Simon about her gives her even more honor. Jesus compares her actions with those of Simon, and the comparison makes her look much better than Simon.
So, in his reactions to her at the dinner party, Jesus gives her shame the remedy it needs. Jesus receives in public her socially unacceptable ministrations to him, her profligate and unconstrained care for him. In receiving it, he honors her; and in what he says about her actions to Simon, he honors her over Simon. In Jesus’ view, which he makes public to Simon and all the other guests at the party, she outranks Simon by some ultimate measure of human excellence.
That ultimate measure is love; and it wins out over everything else, shame included.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University