An Egyptian high shouldered ointment jar,
Old Kingdom,
ca. 2500-2400 B.C.
© Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

An Egyptian high shouldered ointment jar,
Old Kingdom,
ca. 2500-2400 B.C.
© Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Gospel of 17 September 2020

Her many sins have been forgiven, or she would not have shown such great love

Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to a meal. When he arrived at the Pharisee's house and took his place at table, a woman came in, who had a bad name in the town. She had heard he was dining with the Pharisee and had brought with her an alabaster jar of ointment. She waited behind him at his feet, weeping, and her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them away with her hair; then she covered his feet with kisses 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 this woman is that is touching him and what a bad name she has.' Then Jesus took him up and said, 'Simon, I have something to say to you.' 'Speak, Master' was the reply. 'There was once a creditor who had two men in his debt; one owed him five hundred denarii, the other fifty. They were unable to pay, so he pardoned them both. Which of them will love him more?' 'The one who was pardoned more, I suppose' answered Simon. Jesus said, 'You are right.'

Then he turned to the woman. 'Simon,' he said 'you see this woman? I came into your house, and you poured no water over my feet, but she has poured out her tears over my feet and wiped them away with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she has been covering my feet with kisses ever since I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. For this reason I tell you that her sins, her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love. It is the man who is forgiven little who shows little love.' Then he said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.' Those who were with him at table began to say to themselves, 'Who is this man, that he even forgives sins?' But he said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'

Reflection on the Alabaster Ointment Jar

The alabaster jar I am sharing with you today is possibly similar to the jar used by Mary in our Gospel reading of today. It is roughly the size of a small perfume bottle. Alabaster jars (such as the one illustrated here) were used from Egyptian times onwards, all throughout the Greek and Roman empires, as containers for ointment, perfume, and other cosmetic products. Alabaster is a soft and slightly porous stone, making it easy to cut and carve. Another advantage is its translucency, so in order to check how much oil remained in the jar, one would simply hold it against the sunlight to see how much there is left.

Every meal that Jesus shared, reveals something more to us as a Christian community.  Of course we think first and foremost of the Last Supper, but also all the other Gospel passages where we are told about Jesus sharing a meal, reveal something important. In our reading today, we hear that the woman who was approaching Jesus, was weeping. Her tears were the external signs of her real self and what was stirring her heart. Her extravagant actions were simply a great display of humility. Jesus goes to great trouble to explain to Simon the deeper meaning of her actions. Just as the woman offered Jesus the tiny touches of love shown in water, tears and oils from the alabaster jar, so does Jesus notice our small gestures too…

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