She is infamous for her immorality.
She is despised by all the “good people” in her town.
She is emotional and unpredictable.
And she knows more about Jesus-passion than I have ever experienced.
By the end of her story, we know we’re supposed to side with her. Jesus does and we like to be on his good side. But if I’m honest – I have to say I much prefer the rules. The standards that allow me to judge and feel better about myself. The lists that keep me feeling like I’ll be able to attain holiness one day.
Instead, this woman bursts into the dinner party of the town’s head Pharisee and ruins everything. She charges into a home where she knows she is not welcome. She makes herself conspicuous to the judgments always whispered when she passes by. She kneels in front of Jesus and her love for him bursts out – running over his feet, caught up in her hair.
It is a passion Christians say we want to have – but that we rarely experience. Instead, we fake passion with rules. We say passion means the number of times a week you read your Bible. The number of church services you attend. The things you should pray for and the way you should pray them. And when you don’t feel like it, we tell you it’s a battle against the flesh and you’ve just got to grit your teeth and do it anyway. Try harder. Work more. Maybe one day, you’ll stumble across the passion.
I am a fantastic teeth-gritter.
I am an expert rule-writer and rule-follower.
I am in-control and I am a “good person”.
And I have never manufactured passion like hers.
The room fills with the scent of perfume as she pours it on his feet. She marvels that she is here in His presence.
Jesus is speaking, telling a story of two men who both owed a debt – one large and one small. Both debts were forgiven, and Jesus wants Simon the Pharisee to tell him which man will love the one who was owed and who forgave the debt more.
Simon’s answer and mine are spoken with the same, controlled, cold tone of voice. Of course we know it is the one who was forgiven much. Yet neither one of us wants to admit what that really means. Neither one of us wants to look Jesus full in the face and find such staggering forgiveness there that we will be reduced to tears at his feet. Neither one of us wants to lose the safety of the standards, the predictability of the rules.
But then there is she. She is hearing that her sins have been forgiven. She is hearing she can go in peace. She is overwhelmed by a passion the rest of us are too exhausted to fake anymore.
And until we let go of attempts to earn it, until we look Jesus full in the face and allow His forgiveness to wash over us, we will never know her passion.