Simon Stung

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalms 146-47
Psalms 111-13
Jer. 36: 1-10
Acts 14: 8-18
Luke 7:36-50

Simon Stung

Today, with readings of psalms of praise on the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila, whose prayers have inspired millions, is an opportunity to speak of the power of poetry in worship. Luke’s gospel tells how a party-crashing sinful woman mixed perfume with her tears and kisses to wash the feet of Jesus and dry them with her hair, expressing in concrete detail, as poetry does, her love.

But no, instead I am distracted, as I often am, by a secondary character, one of those many Biblical characters who are weighed in the balance and found wanting. All Simon the Pharisee had to do was think something—he didn’t even say it!—and be rebuked by Jesus. He thought, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what kind of woman is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus’s rebuke had to sting. Instead of telling Simon that like this woman he should give away all for love and follow him—an easy command to shrug off for its impracticality—, Jesus reminds him that he has failed the simple expectations of hospitality. Unlike the woman, Jesus points out, Simon has given Jesus no kiss of welcome, no water for his feet, no oil of hospitality. “She has shown great love, but the one to whom little is forgiven loves little.” Then he says to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” We can imagine Simon sitting in silence, not daring to answer back. Twelve words from Jesus have been enough to show the woman, who was so far down she had nothing to lose, a bright path to a better life. To Simon, Jesus dedicates a whole parable, a question-and-answer lesson on the parable, and ninety-eight words of reproof.

To one who shows little love, many words will be given, and coming from Jesus, harsh though they may sound, they are words of love. I like to believe that the now silent Simon thought long enough about those words that at last Jesus’s faith in Simon, which he showed by spending the effort to teach him, saved Simon and taught him to love better, as I ask Jesus to do to me also.

Written by John DuVal

John DuVal came to the Episcopal church from the Roman Catholic church largely for a desire that women be among his priestly leaders, and is grateful to the Episcopal Church for providing the rich liturgy and sense of inclusivity that he learned to love in the Catholic church. With his wife he has served St. Paul’s as a lay communion minister and reader and in other volunteer work. He teaches in the English Department and the Creative Writing/Translation Program at the University of Arkansas.

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