By Evan Kardaras, Sub-Deacon at St. Mary & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church, Bexley, Australia.
(Sermon given at a Sunday Liturgy, October 2018)
Gospel Reading Luke 7:36-50
“Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”
And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
So he said, “Teacher, say it.”
“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”
Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”
And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.””
In today’s gospel we see a Pharisee inviting our Lord Jesus to his home to share a meal together. We then see a woman who is described as a sinner, meaning she is either a harlot, or a woman that took pleasure in living in fornication, in sleeping around with other men, come in with an alabaster flask of fragrant oil. This woman then proceeds to stand behind the Lord and weep, she then begins to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. She then kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.
Before we analyse this amazing out pouring of love and repentance by this woman, it will be helpful to highlight that this event happened on two separate occasions in the Gospels, with different people present, at different points in time. In the gospels of Saints Matthew, Mark and John, we see Mary the sister of Lazarus pour fragrant oil on the head of our Lord, while they are dining at the house of Simon the leper. This was toward the end of our Lord’s ministry, in the week leading up to the Passover just before his crucifixion.
In today’s gospel it is not Mary the sister of Lazarus, and it is not at Simon the leper’s house. It’s a different woman and it’s at a Pharisees house. We also know that St Luke’s gospel is written as close as possible to the historical reality in its order of events. So being that today’s gospel is in chapter 7 of the gospel of St Luke, we know that it took place in the earlier period of our Lord’s 3 year ministry. So we should not confuse this sinful woman with Mary the sister of Lazarus. They are two separate events, with some similarities, at different periods of time during our Lords 3 year ministry.
Let us now return to this beautiful story of repentance of this sinful woman. We read in today’s gospel that an alabaster flask of fragrant oil was used to anoint our Lord’s feet. We don’t know the value of this oil, but if it was similar to the spikenard that was used by Mary the sister of Lazarus, then we know it would have been worth approximately 300 denarii. We know historically speaking that 1 denarii was considered 1 days wage for a skilled labourer.
Today in Sydney a skilled labourer would make approximately $180 a day. So if we take the 300 denarii and multiply it by the base wage of a skilled labourer in today’s times, being $180, we get $54,000. In other words this little flask and perfume may have been the value of 1 years’ worth of wages.
What would have moved this sinful woman to come to our Lord, weeping with all her heart, bending herself down to wash our Lord’s feet with her tears, wiping his feet with her hair, kissing his feet with deep joy, and anointing them with the fragrant oil? Without a doubt it was our Lord’s amazing love that stirred this woman to repentance, to this deep love for the Lord. We can imagine her hearing our Lord speak, prior to this event, following Him around and seeing his out pouring of love, his healing the multitudes, forgiving sinners, loving everyone He met with great care and concern.
If she didn’t see these events personally, she may have heard of them, what we know for certain is that the Lord’s love absolutely transformed this woman, it shook the depths of her heart to such an extent that she realised the depths of her sin; she realised her brokenness, she realised how far she was from this true love, and thus she came to the house of the Pharisee and absolutely humbled herself before everyone present at the feet of our Lord.
Think about it, she is a known sinner, a reject in the eyes of society, an outcast, and she enters the house of a Pharisee. Perhaps other Pharisees would have been present, friends of the host, and we know Pharisees were very outspoken toward sinners. The Pharisees considered themselves holy and righteous, so they would have looked down on this woman like a mere dog. She doesn’t let the shame stop her, she comes in and falls at our Lord’s feet sobbing, holding His feet tightly and kissing them.
When meditating on this story I was very moved by this woman’s love, this woman’s repentance, and I asked myself, do I love our Lord like this? Would I fall down at His feet as a weak sinner in front of others and weep and kiss His feet? Would I grasp them and give a years’ worth of my wages as an offering of love in return for His love?
Can I please ask that each of you also ask yourselves this question? Please ask yourself, if Jesus was here, could I have the courage of this woman? Could I fall down at his feet and weep for my sins as she did? Could I offer my whole being I raw humility in front of others out of heartfelt repentance? Please continue to contemplate on this question my brothers and sister as we continue to discuss the rest of the gospel.
After this outpouring of love, the Pharisee thought to Himself: “If this Man was a prophet, He would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” In other words, how in the world could this man if indeed His is a prophet, allow this woman to touch Him if she is a dirty sinner, if she is un-purified and ritually unclean through her many sins? If He’s a prophet he wouldn’t allow this.
Our Lord then responded to the Pharisee, after reading his thoughts, saying that a certain creditor had two debtors, one debtor owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Both debtors couldn’t pay the debt so the creditor freely forgave both their debt. Our Lord then asked the Pharisee which of the debtors would love the creditor more. Of course the Pharisee responded that the one who was forgiven the greater debt would love the creditor more. If I was forgiven 20 months’ worth of wages, compared to 2 months wages, of course I’d be far more grateful.
Our Lord then compared what the repentant woman had done to this little analogy. Our Lord compared the self-sacrificing out pouring love of the repentant woman, to the person who was forgiven much and thus loved the creditor more.
This woman was touched by our Lord’s grace and His love led her to her out pouring of love. The Pharisee on the other hand, didn’t offer water for the washing of our Lord’s feet, didn’t wipe his feet or offer any fragrant oil, didn’t humble Himself at the feet of the Lord like this repentant woman. Thus due to him not being touched by God’s grace and message, not feeling His sinfulness and not repenting in all humility like this woman, He could not love the Lord in the same way, or experience the mercy and love of the Lord in the same way as his heart was still hardened.
This woman’s openness to the message of Christ, her heart being opened to the Lord’s love, led her to a profound example of repentance. The Pharisees hard heartedness, disabled him from loving the Lord, from repenting, and thus of experiencing the sweet mercy of Christ.
Let us now come back to the question I posed earlier. When each of us thinks whether we would be able to have this profound repentance and humility, whether we could have this sort of faith and love that this woman displayed, does our heart bear witness we could do what she did? Can we humbly say that we are able to have profound repentance like this woman, or do we feel we may resemble the Pharisee, in that we would laugh or judge another person who fell at the Lord’s feet in this way? Are we too proud to fall with tears before the Lord and confess our brokenness, and that we are in desperately in need of His mercy? Do we even realise how broken we are and how riddled our lives are with weaknesses and sins?
What does our heart tell us, who do we resemble, the repentant woman, or the Pharisee who didn’t have repentance as he thought He was okay, and instead judged the woman? This question is a very important question we need to ask ourselves. Many times we complain that we don’t feel God in our lives, we don’t feel God in prayer, we get bored at the Liturgy, not being bothered to come from the beginning but content with the last half an hour, we don’t feel God’s presence when reading the scriptures. We don’t have a burning love in our hearts for the Lord. So prayer is boring, Church is boring, reading the bible is boring, God is boring.
I’m certain all of us don’t want to be like this, we want to have a burning love for God. We don’t want to be bored in our relationship with God. We all want to be aflame with His love and be on fire when we pray, be first to arrive at the Liturgies and feel a deep connection with the Lord from beginning to end; read the Scriptures and see they are alive with power, always touching our hearts, this is what we want. Why at times are we then bored with God and so far from this goal?
The answer is given by the Lord at the end of today’s gospel reading. Our Lord said: Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. This woman through deep, profound, humble repentance entered into the mystery of God’s love. Her repentance cleared her heart of all the thorns and weeds, took away all sin, all obstacles that previously obstructed the Lord from being enthroned in her heart.
She loved much, practically turning away from her life of sin and turning in deep repentance to the Lord, clinging to His feet. This of course led to a deep and cleansing repentance, tears, kissing the Lord’s feet. Can you imagine the joy over flowing from her heart, leading her to give a years’ worth of wages, to kiss the Lord’s feet with deep joy, tears of gratitude and repentance?
This is the result of true and heartfelt repentance brothers and sisters, this is the key to entering deeper into our relationship with the Lord. This is what we all need to do in order to have this joy and heart aflame with love for the Lord, like this repentant woman in today’s gospel.
If today we feel we don’t have a heart aflame with God’s love, we find the solution in today’s gospel. We all need to humbly fall at our Lord’s feet and be real and raw with our Lord. We need to be real with the fact that we are all sinners, everyday falling short of God’s perfection and thus prepare our hearts to be thrones on which Jesus our Lord can come and be seated.
Someone may say that they don’t see their sins, they don’t feel this sort of repentance. If that’s the case let us beg the Lord to allow us to see our sinfulness, to allow us to see our many faults, weaknesses and brokenness, and let us ask Him every day for this gift and insight. The Lord will indeed hear this prayer if we humbly ask Him daily for this vision of our brokenness, and it will result in us weeping for our sins, and entering into the mystery of His love.
The Lord needs to be master and Lord of my life, and if I want to grow deeper in my spirituality, deeper in my prayers, deeper in my enjoyment of the Liturgy, deeper in my reading of the scripture, then there is only one path that opens this door. It’s giving my heart to the Lord in daily heartfelt repentance.
We serve a beautiful God brothers and sisters, a Lord that welcome sinners with great love, great care and affection, a Lord that has given us eternal life through dying for us to save us. Let us then hold nothing back, let us never be ashamed, but let us use the rest of the liturgy to weep for our sins, weep in our hearts and prepare them worthily for the king of kings whom we will each eat soon through consuming His precious Body and Blood.
In doing so we will start to enter also in the mystery of God’s love. Orthodoxy will become very much alive, spirituality will become alive, God will become alive in our hearts and we will start a daily journey of deeper love and enjoyment of God in and through His Church.
Glory be to God forever more amen.