The Gospel lesson for that Sunday is Luke 7:36-8:3. Here's the NRSV text:
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
In this post, I'll write my personal reflections, before I look at any commentaries. Then I'll check out what the commentaries have to say and summarize them in a second post.
This is a complicated text. There is a story within the story: the short parable about the two men who owed money and had their debts canceled. Like many of Jesus' parables, it is a bit difficult to draw the connection between the meaning of the parable and its immediate context. We can see that a parallel is being made between "canceling" monetary debts and "forgiving" sins — however, the Greek word is different for the two situations. I want to be careful not to draw the parallel too strongly here.
Another question concerns the characters of the parable and the narrative. The parable has three characters: two debtors and one money lender. These seem to be parallel to the three characters of the broader narrative: Simon the Pharisee, the woman, and Jesus. However, the money lender cancels the debts of both men; while Jesus only forgives the sins of the woman. Likewise, in the parable the emphasis is on the canceling of the debts; Jesus and Simon only speculate about the response of love on the part of the debtors. On the other hand, in the narrative, the emphasis is on the love the woman is demonstrating. Her actions, along with Jesus' comment in verse 47 ("Her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.") suggest that her sins have already been forgiven, even before Jesus says so in the following verse. The behavior of the third character, Simon, is not explicitly explained, but the implication seems to be that he is "the one to whom little is forgiven" who does not show the loving response.
Perhaps verse 49 deserves more attention. The people at the meal ask, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" Chapter 7 as a whole seems to be very concerned with this question — who is Jesus? The chapter begins with Jesus healing the slave of the centurion and raising the son of the widow. Then the disciples of John come to Jesus with the same question: who is Jesus? Jesus tells them, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." This answer suggests that Jesus' identity can be found in his actions. Then at the dinner party, the guests observe how Jesus forgives sins, and they wonder about his identity. If forgiving sins is Jesus' identity, or at least a part of it, then the dinner guests are missing the point.
Another point I noticed when looking at the Greek concerned verse 39. In the NRSV, Simon says to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner." The NET does the same, with a note that this is a contrary-to-fact condition: "This is a good example of a second class (contrary to fact) Greek conditional sentence. The Pharisee said, in effect, 'If this man were a prophet (but he is not)…'" However, the condition is constructed with ei plus the indicative, which usually indicates reality. Therefore I would translate the verse, "If [or even "Since"] this one is a prophet, he also knows what sort of woman is touching him, that she is a sinner." Jesus' acknowledgment of the woman's sins in verse 47 show that he does, in fact, know what sort of woman is touching him. This point may not be significant to the meaning of the passage as a whole, but I was struck by it anyway. It does cast a different light on Simon if he believes Jesus is a prophet than if he dismissively assumes Jesus is not.
Whew. That seems like enough for one post. I'll check out some commentaries and see what they have to say. Then I'll find a focus for my sermon and get writing!