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Lectionary Reflection

Year C, Proper 6 Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Lesson

Luke 7:36-50 (RCL: Luke 7:36-8:3)

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisees 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 Pharisees 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 himthat 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 cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more? Simon answered, I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt. And Jesus said to him, You have judged rightly. Then turning towards 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.

(RCL Addition) 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 Herods steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Reflection on Luke 7:36-50 by John Gibbs, PhD

Jesus has chosen the Twelve (5:11, 28; 6:12-16), but he has not yet sent them to become apostles (9:1-6). Between those events Luke is intent to show the inclusive future-oriented nature of Jesus’ ministry.

Not past purity, but purpose that creates and moves into God’s future is first priority. That is clear in the sermon on the plain (6:17-49), which portrays the grain of the universe, and how we may work out our lives in accord with it rather than against it. It is clear again when Jew Jesus’ word reaches out to a Gentile centurion whom he never met, and heals his slave (7:1-10).

When the widow at Nain loses her only son, and it appeared that her future was foreclosed, Jesus reverses expectations, a resurrection occurs, and the future opens up for her again (7:11-17).

Future expectation is the issue for John the Baptist in his relations with Jesus (7:18-35): “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (7:19). The answer contrasts “the people of this generation,” who reject both the Baptist and Jesus for nonconformity to their backward-bound standards, with on the other hand, the proactive forward-leaning creativity of Jesus, “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (7:34).

Jesus’ ministry does not uphold dividing walls of purity. It breaks through them to include women (8:1-3), to appeal to “anyone with ears to hear” (8:8), to heal someone among Gentile tenders of pigs (8:26-39), to help fellow Jews who, however, were excluded from their own people by ceremonial laws (8:40-56, Jairus’ daughter and the woman with a hemorrhage).

All these events prepare the way for the apostolic mission of “bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere” (9:6). So also does another event that we saved for now. That is Jesus’ understanding of “a woman in the city, who was a sinner,” when she anointed him (7:36-50). Luke highlights Jesus’ response to her by contrasting it with his host Simon’s reaction. Simon reacts against her sinfulness, her impurity, her unrighteousness. Jesus, on the other hand, responds to her “great love” (7:47) by bringing to her the righteousness of forgiveness.

Simon’s cynicism, some might say, could be justified on the basis of how that woman had been living, for she could not be called a “righteous woman.” Over against that closed-minded rigidity, Jesus’ creativity opens up a new future for that woman and for those present who caught from Jesus a glimpse of hope: for her, for themselves, and for the human race.

Simon, who thinks he is upholding the “righteous” way of life, has not seen through the practical mundane and material actions of this woman to the “great love” that was the engine of her actions. If he had done so, he could have seen with Jesus that even this impure person could “go in peace” (7:50) as a forgiven person to whom a new future has been given.

This unknown woman had intuitively understood the spiritual uses of material things. More than that, she had acted on that intuition. Perhaps that is why, after commending her great love, Jesus concluded: “Your faith has saved you” (7:50). The leap of faith, as William Sloane Coffin has said, “is not so much a leap of thought as of action.” That is, “first we must do then we will know, first we will be and then we will see.” [Coffin, Credo (Louisville: WJKP, 2004), p. 7]

Copyright Statement

Reflections on other Readings [Standard (Episcopal) and Revised Common Lectionary] for Year C, Proper 6

Revised Common Lectionary

Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary

Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Lesson:
1 Kings 21:1-10 (11-14) 15-21a
no reflection available
2 Samuel 11:26 12:10,13-15
no reflection available
2 Samuel 11:26 12:10,13-15
no reflection available
Psalm 5:1-8
no reflection available
New Testament Lesson
Luke 7:368:3
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Luke: 7:36-50
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Additional Reflections:

Revised Common Lectionary
Last Sunday's Gospel
none available
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Next Sunday's
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Episcopal Standard Lectionary
Last Sunday's Gospel
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John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attended Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN, when he originally wrote this reflection in 2004. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:

MEESC c/o C. Morello 4451 Lakeside Drive Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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