One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment… (Luke 7:36-37)
I used to squirm a bit when I came upon this story; it made me uncomfortable. Stories in the Bible speak to me when I see myself in them; I might be the bad guy or the good guy, but either way, I identify with the character and find there an understanding of who I am or what I can become. But I couldn’t find myself in this story.
I wasn’t like the antagonist, Simon the pharisee. He was so self righteous! He was so rude to Jesus, and so cruel to the woman. I would never act like that. I was nicer, more polite than Simon.
And I wasn’t like the protagonist, Mary, either. This immoral woman of the city, gushing over Jesus, made quite a spectacle of herself. I would never act like that. I was more self controlled, more dignified than Mary.
Yet the story held my attention every time I passed by. It bothered me.
Then one day, God made this story mine. In one flash of light, he exposed the hardness of my heart and melted it with his mercy. Now I am Simon, and I am Mary.
I have always been a pharisee, so much like Simon that I could not face it. I looked at others with contempt. I condemned them for sins that were worse than mine. I despised them for love that was deeper than mine. I set the standard, my own limits of behavior and passion, and found everyone else guilty of excess. Yet I could not see it. Jesus confronted such hypocrites; in fact, they were the only sinners that Jesus rebuked. I could not bear to find myself among them.
But in his kindness, my Father showed me who I really was. He was not angry; he was only merciful. He did not humiliate me; he only opened my eyes. In the brilliant light of his love, he gently took my hand and drew me from Simon’s rigid shell, led me across that room and into Mary’s bent and shaking form. Her gratitude, her longing, her adoration, her broken heart became my own.
Now the story is mine and I love to read it again. I am still both Simon and Mary. I easily step back into the pharisee’s costume and take the judge’s bench. And every time, with his tireless hand of mercy, my Father motions to the woman on the floor and asks me wouldn’t I rather be down there with her.