The Woman With The Alabaster Jar And The Pharisee: Surprised by Grace

Forgive concept: Silhouette of bird flying and broken chains at sunset background

surprised by grace
Surprised by grace

Surprised by Grace

Now and then, I am surprised by grace; that phrase is used a lot by Christian writers weakly attempting to convey what Paul describes as living and active and sharper than a two edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit. Because it’s always much more than surprise…more like a blow to my psyche.

I have read and or heard preached the Gospel passage in Luke, where Christ is invited to dine at the home of the Pharisee and is interrupted by the woman with the alabaster jar who stands behind the Lord weeping as she annoints his feet with the precious oil, countless times.

Yet only this morning did these words really penetrate.

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

I remember vividly my sense of being transported to another planet

when I accepted the invitation of my then Spiritual Director in Regnum Christi to attend their conference in Bampf, Canada. There was I among hundreds of holy women: Women who appeared to me to have born knowing- and loving- their role as child of God, wife, mother. They were of all ages, shapes and sizes but seemed to me to be an alien species when compared to the women I knew and had lived with in my pre-Christian world.

While reading this Gospel passage this morning, I was transported back to that pre-Christian world I inhabited for so many years and was drenched in sorrow for the choices I had made, the things I had done offending God and my neighbor in just about every conceivable way.

In this new light, I read the words of Christ to the Pharisee as gentle and ever so loving when He explained the ferocity of her gratitude, the depth of her contrition to a man who had never ventured  out of his Godly universe, a man who had no comprehension of the depths to which he could sink; never needing to be Surprised by grace.

Of course he had no understanding of the Man who came to save sinners.

How could he?

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