When I read this Gospel, from Luke chapter 7, verses 36-50, of the anointing of Jesus by a sinful woman, two very vivid images come to mind, evoked by two songs. The first is the old song ‘Beautiful to Me’ by Don Francisco, which in his style is a powerful retelling of this story, told from the point-of-view of Simon the Pharisee. The song continues to repeat a refrain, which is “your sins were red as scarlet, but now they’re washed away; no matter what the world thinks, you’re beautiful to me.”
These lyrics certainly capture the heart of this strange but beautiful story. The contrast between the knowing arrogance of Simon and the simplicity and humility of the uninvited woman is palpable. But so also is the outrageous adoration of the woman, expressed in the abundant flow of her tears, wiped away with her indecently let-down hair, her kisses of his feet, and the anointing of the feet of Jesus by the perfumed oil from the alabaster jar. The focus and the action moves smoothly and masterfully between these three main characters, as Jesus, Simon and the woman of the alabaster jar each take centre stage and then move into the background.
For this is what happens when the love of God impacts upon an ordinary human life. Whatever our expectations of what it might look like when the kingdom of God broke into our world, what this Gospel scene portrays is a time of abundant generosity, surprising grace and yet the fierce opposition from the established order. For what we see in this story is that both Simon and the woman are revealed not as society and social conventions will portray them – but as both are seen in the eyes of God’s love and mercy. Unfortunately for Simon, he had never come to terms with his own heart, so he is not able to recognise or appreciate the depths of God’s mercy when he sits in person at his own table.
Which is what the second song tries to capture. It is ‘Alabaster’, by Rend Collective. It is an invitation to worship, lost in the depths of God’s love. I first heard the song a couple of years ago at a wedding I was celebrating on the mid-north coast. During the service, the bride left her seat to join the musicians, and sang this song of offering of their lives and marriage to the Lord. It was a most precious reminder of the depths of our need to receive God’s mercy each day. Nothing that we do will ever be a true offering of our love, until that glorious moment when we discover the absolute possibility of mercy without price. The only sign and proof of this is love.
Sunday 11, Year C, Season of Growth.