Do you see this woman? (Luke 7:44).
In the Gospel lesson cited above there are three people. There is the woman, “a woman of the city, who was a sinner,” a woman who wept at the feet of Jesus, and anointed him there. Then there is Simon. Presumably a law-abiding Pharisee, he sees the encounter between Jesus and the woman, and immediately presumes that Jesus cannot be a prophet, for a true prophet would have nothing to do with a sinner of this sort. Then there is Jesus. He knows Simon’s thoughts, and tells him a simple story exposing Simon’s presumption and self-righteousness, and then asks him a simple question: “Do you see this woman?”
Apparently Simon has not. He has seen the encounter between Jesus and the woman (7:39), but he has not seen her. What did he see? He saw a woman of the city. He saw a sinner. But he didn’t see her. He saw a category, a problem, a sin. But he didn’t see her. And, from what we can gather from the story Jesus tells him, Simon didn’t see himself either. As one who believed that his own sin was small, Simon had little love for the One who came to bear his sin.
But Jesus saw her. The scene is precious—a woman who appeared to have been locked in shame comes in remorse and without shame lavishes love on the One who would gladly receive her. And, having seen her, he was willing, without apology, to speak on her behalf—even to a religious man who was his host—and publicly forgive her sins. And so, with that word of forgiveness, the woman takes her place among the multitude of the weary and heavy-laden to whom, in coming to him, Jesus has promised to give rest.
And what was her sin? Thanks be to God, we are not told. If Luke told us that she had a sharp tongue, or was an adulteress, or lied about a neighbor, or sold drugs, or loved money, or had an abortion, we would know that Jesus forgives certain kinds of sinners. But we don’t know. And therefore we can see ourselves in her. If we don’t, we show ourselves to be like Simon.
The witness of the church to a weary and heavy-laden world depends upon our vision. Do we really see our neighbors? Can we really see ourselves? Simon didn’t voice his thoughts concerning the woman. But Jesus knew his heart. And I suspect the woman did too.