I once had a girl friend, many years before I met my wife, Becky, and I loved her very much. We had, I thought, a good relationship. So I felt as though I had been hit with a sledgehammer in the chest when she confessed to me that she had cheated on me while she was away at school. I didn’t know how to respond. I was angry, sure, and I felt betrayed, but mostly, I felt unloved.
She felt terribly guilty. She wept bitterly. She apologized again and again. She had known that what she had done was inexcusable and didn’t offer any. She told me she couldn’t see how she could continue our relationship knowing what she had done to me. In truth, she seemed more upset than I was. I spent a day considering the situation and felt that our relationship was worth saving. Our relationship continued for a time, but in the end, she could not overcome her guilt. The relationship seemed to simply melt away and we parted.
Anyone in a committed relationship has wondered how s/he would react in such a situation. Well, I can tell you that, having been there, I can say my reactions were not what one might expect. Because, in the end, I did not want her sorrow. I did not want her remorse. All I wanted was her love. And she let her perceived transgression come between us. In the words of the old cliché, “it wasn’t me…it was her.” She let her guilt build a wall between us.
And I don’t know. Maybe she had some inner justification for what she did. After all, she was far away from me. We weren’t married. She was probably lonely. Perhaps she may even have felt that I had no right to expect her to be “faithful” so far away from me. It doesn’t really matter. I can’t say that it didn’t matter to me. I certainly can’t say I didn’t care. But I can say that all I really wanted was to have her love again. I didn’t care about her guilt. I had no interest in getting even, or punishing her in any way. I just wanted her love. And I think that God—or whatever you want to call that power—is just the same.
In the seventh chapter of Luke, the gospel writer tells this story:
A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him,
and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.
Now there was a sinful woman in the city
who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee.
Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment,
she stood behind him at his feet weeping
and began to bathe his feet with her tears.
Then she wiped them with her hair,
kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself,
“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.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Tell me, teacher, ” he said. “Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty.
Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both.
Which of them will love him more?”
Simon said in reply,
“The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon,
“Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet,
but she has bathed them with her tears
and wiped them with her hair.
You did not give me a kiss,
but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered.
You did not anoint my head with oil,
but she anointed my feet with ointment.
So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven
because she has shown great love.
But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The others at table said to themselves,
“Who is this who even forgives sins?” But he said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Afterward he journeyed from one town and village to another,
preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.
Accompanying him were the Twelve
and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities,
Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,
Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza,
Susanna, and many others who provided for them
out of their resources. (Luke, Chapter 7)
This was a common practice in first century Judea. Someone might speak in the synagogue, and then afterwards, he would be invited for a meal at the house of one of the religious leaders. The meal would be served on the patio and people would gather around to hear anything of interest the speaker might have to say. This is the situation here with Jesus.
And when the prostitute comes in to wash the feet of Jesus, Simon determines that he could not possibly be a prophet, or anyone of importance. No one worth notice would suffer such a woman such as she was to minister to him. By Jewish thought at that time, God could have no love for such a woman. God only loved the “righteous”. Jesus, knowing what Simon was thinking, then tells him the parable of the two debtors.
Jesus then reminds his host that he was greeted neither with a holy kiss, nor with the customary foot washing that one would offer a guest. The “harlot”, on the other hand, offered both overflowing. So Jesus tells her that her faith has saved her. Notice that he doesn’t say that HE has saved her, or that God has saved her. He says her FAITH has saved her.
Of course, it is probable that this story never actually happened. It harkens back to an Old Testament story of the prophecy of Hosea. The prostitute is most likely symbolic of the nation of Israel, unfaithful with pagan gods, returning to “the one true God.” The woman in the story has no name, although she is often associated with Mary Magdalene. There is no mention in the bible that she is Mary, or that Mary was a prostitute. But it doesn’t matter if it happened or not. As I say, the bible is a book of truth, not a book of facts. The story offers two important lessons about life and our relationship to that creative spirit that embraces all of us.
Notice that in the story, it is not guilt and sorrow that moves Jesus. It is love. The “Holy” guy fails to receive Jesus in love. But the prostitute has love overflowing. God isn’t interested in our sins. S/He is interested in our love. God doesn’t want us to be sorrowful and lamenting. God, or whatever you want to call that power, wants our love.
So many of us build walls between ourselves and God because we don’t feel holy enough, or we don’t want to follow all those rules, or we don’t believe in those rules, or we don’t believe in the God that we have heard about, or because we think that God couldn’t love people like us. We build up all those walls ourselves. God doesn’t. All God wants is love. God is love. We are love. Love enfolds everything and connects us all.
You will notice that the “holy” guy in the story isn’t very loving at all. Indeed, the name Simon means “reputation” in Hebrew. He is worried about his reputation. He doesn’t want a woman like that in his house. He rejects her and he rejects Jesus. I guess he doesn’t feel as though he needs the teachings of Jesus so much because he already feels so damn “holy.”
Maybe that’s why Jesus said the “poor in spirit” were so blessed (happy). Those people don’t feel like they can make it on their own. They HAVE to rely on a higher power. Holy people already feel good and righteous. They already feel like they’re better than everybody else. So they never give to God the one thing God wants, love. They don’t feel so grateful to God. They did it on their own. They’re just so damn good. They follow all the rules…well, except maybe for reaching out to other people in love.
According to the Jewish story, when they returned from exile in Babylon, the temple was rebuilt. And when the people reached out to Jesus (personified by the prostitute), the temple was rebuilt as well, the temple of the relationship between God and humankind. The Jews had felt separated from God because of the Adam and Eve myth. Jesus came to remind the people they were never separated from God, could never be separated from God. God was a part of them and they were a part of God. And all of us are connected by holy power of love. We are the temple of God.
So I think that God is a lot like us. We were created in His/Her image, after all. God isn’t interested in our remorse. We’re not supposed to feel guilty. We’re not supposed to worry about our reputations. We just supposed to love one another. According to tradition, the last words of Saint John the Apostle to his disciples were simple, “Love one another.” Jesus said that too. Love one another. It sounds like good advice.