Luke 7:36-50 (CEV)
36 A Pharisee invited Jesus to have dinner with him. So Jesus went to the Pharisee’s home and got ready to eat.
37 When a sinful woman in that town found out that Jesus was there, she bought an expensive bottle of perfume. 38 Then she came and stood behind Jesus. She cried and started washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. The woman kissed his feet and poured the perfume on them.
39 The Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw this and said to himself, “If this man really were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him! He would know that she is a sinner.”
40 Jesus said to the Pharisee, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Teacher, what is it?” Simon replied.
41 Jesus told him, “Two people were in debt to a moneylender. One of them owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other owed him fifty. 42 Since neither of them could pay him back, the moneylender said that they didn’t have to pay him anything. Which one of them will like him more?”
43 Simon answered, “I suppose it would be the one who had owed more and didn’t have to pay it back.”
“You are right,” Jesus said.
44 He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Have you noticed this woman? When I came into your home, you didn’t give me any water so I could wash my feet. But she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You didn’t even pour olive oil on my head, but she has poured expensive perfume on my feet. 47 So I tell you that all her sins are forgiven, and that is why she has shown great love. But anyone who has been forgiven for only a little will show only a little love.”
48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 Some other guests started saying to one another, “Who is this who dares to forgive sins?”
50 But Jesus told the woman, “Because of your faith, you are now saved. May God give you peace!”
Jesus vs. Shame
One of my favourite authors over the last few years has been Brené Brown. She is a researcher with a Ph. D. in social work, and her topic of research is shame.
Brené defines shame like this: “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” She goes on to say that she doesn’t think “… shame is helpful or productive. In fact,” she counters, “… shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behaviour than the solution or cure.”
We aren’t told very much about this woman. The term ‘sinful woman’ tells us that she was a prostitute, but we have no idea what got her into that situation in the first place. It’s possible that she chose it, but it’s more likely that her circumstances chose it for her. Maybe she was orphaned or widowed or otherwise left without a male to protect and provide for her in a world where women were utterly dependent on the men in their lives for survival. Maybe this was the only option she could find in the midst of the world she lived in that would pay enough for her to make ends meet. Maybe her childhood had been filled with trauma and this was the best she could imagine for a life as ‘worthless’ as her own. We’re not told, but those are some of the stories I’ve been told by women still working in this industry today.
What we do know is that there is no pride or arrogance to her as she approaches Jesus. We know that her view of herself is so low that she comes with the richest offering she can and adopts the most humble posture imaginable – washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and drying them with her hair.
How many years had she lived like this? How long had shame eaten into her like termites infesting the walls of a house? How many of the slurs that she endured every day had she come to accept as true?
And yet somehow, when she hears that Jesus is in town, this is her response. I can only imagine that she had been in the crowd that day. Can only imagine that she had stood, maybe on the very edge of the crowd, a little hidden behind something, and as Jesus walked by he had caught her eye with a look of compassion and worth. Because somehow she has the courage to walk straight in to this party. She is broken, she is utterly undeserving. She knows that her best will not possibly be good enough, and yet she comes in and offers it anyways.
And Jesus responds. He responds to the judgment of the host, Simon, with a story about forgiveness and a fresh start. Then he turns to this woman and sees her shame, sees the destruction it has caused in her life, sees the faith that brought her to the table, and offers to set her free.
In the fight between Jesus vs. Shame, Jesus wins and shame is blown away.
- How much of your story is filled with shame?
- How much of your story were you told you needed to be ashamed of?
- How much of your life do you spend trying to control your behaviour (or the behaviour of others, including your partner or your children) through shame?
- What does it change if this is Jesus’ response to shame?
- If you feel your story is full of shame, I would invite you to take it to Jesus.
- If you were told your story was full of shame, I would invite you to take it to Jesus.
- If you spend your life trying to control yourself or others through the use of shame, I would invite you to take that to Jesus.
- If you need to talk more about this, please get in touch.