We know the scene, and it is easy to imagine: a wealthy house somewhere in Judea, Jesus, reclining by the dinner table on a low couch, his host, the Pharisee resting similarly beside him or across the table.
At the table, sit others who came to see the teacher of Galilee. Then comes an intruder, a local prostitute, called in the Gospel "sinful woman," who, clasping Jesus' feet, weeps over them and wipes them with her loose, long hair.
Then she breaks off the seal of the small alabaster vial she brought and pours heavily scented oil on Jesus' feet. She does not say a word but her actions speak eloquently for her. That she is wearing her hair unbound and uncovered, speaks of deep distress, some sort of internal mourning.
Her presence in the house of a law-abiding Pharisee is a shock. Sinners and Gentiles were not allowed into the houses of the just because they ritually polluted everything they touched, even the space they stood in, the air they breathed.
It makes one wonder how she got into the house and the dining room. Every decent house in those times was entered through the gate in the wall of a central courtyard. The gate was guarded by a gatekeeper, a servant or a slave, day and night. Did she bribe him? Not likely.
'Her sins which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.'
One possibility is that she simply broke in, rushed through, mingled with the guests and could not be stopped in her overwhelming desire to embrace Jesus' feet, to show him her love and contrition.
She knew she was not wanted there by the Pharisee, that he despised her as if she were a sick, dirty animal. But she did not care because her full focus was on Jesus.
The other possibility is that unknown to her, the woman's impulsive coming served as a test, a trap for Jesus. In this scenario, she would be allowed to enter the house for a purpose, although not hers.
So we can imagine how the Pharisee watched the woman's hot tears fall on Jesus' feet with cool detachment. It is obvious that he is not going to shoo her away from his guest, as he should, being a law-abiding man. He is not concerned with the visible spiritual turmoil of the "sinful women" who seems to be undergoing a spiritual transformation.
The Pharisee is not interested in the woman. His focus is fully on Jesus, but not on account of love. The Pharisee looks at his guest and finds his behaviour highly interesting. "If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner."
The Pharisee follows the Law, which is predictable even if constricting. According to the Law, a man of God, let alone the Messiah, would have sensed the moral impurity of the prostitute and would have immediately moved away from her defiling presence. If he does not react as he should, he is not a prophet.
That at the beginning of the dinner, the Pharisee did not serve water for Jesus' feet and neglected to greet his guest with a kiss and to oil his hair - all gestures common in Jewish culture of hospitality - suggests that he was not really looking for the truth about Jesus. Rather, he sought confirmation of his belief that Jesus was a fraud and he found it.
Jesus loved them both, the impulsive prostitute and the calculating Pharisee. Both are children of God, and he will die for them on the cross. The woman sinned greatly but, because of her tragic lifestyle, she found Jesus and his love.
Now she believes in him, loves him and desires to change her life. She loves much because much has been forgiven her. She comes from far away. Jesus forgives her many sins easily: "Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
The Pharisee, however, like most of us, has a problem with Jesus' forgiveness because he obviously considers himself to be just. He fulfills the Law to the letter, gives to the Temple and studies his religion with devotion.
By the attention he paid to Jesus, it is clear that he belongs to those who stamp out every shadow of heresy. He does not let sinners into his house, either. But does he really need God?
Do we, the devout churchgoers, specialists in canon law, theologians, faithful practitioners of traditional devotions, pillars of the visible Church, know how much we have been forgiven? Do we realize that contrition is measured only by love? Do we weep over our sins?
"The one to whom little is forgiven, loves little."