In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches us that there is a big difference between letting someone into your your home and letting them into your heart. To learn this lesson we must consider the outlook of Simon the Pharisee and his other invited guests. Pharisee literally meant “separated one.” The people admired the Pharisees because they observed many ritual and moral rules—hundreds—to be ritually and morally pure: prayers, ritual washings, dietary laws, a code of conduct, studies, etc.. That gave them a great prestige in Jewish society because separated meant untainted, uncorrupted. With this attitude it is likely that Simon invited Jesus seeing it as doing Jesus a favor. He was probably checking out this “prophet” whom everyone was talking about. If we measure the signs of hospitality that Jesus says Simon didn’t do—they weren’t required—it shows Jesus was a guest, but not a special guest in Simon’s eyes.
When the sinful woman arrived uninvited upon hearing Jesus was in town, for Simon it was a cut and dry case, from his perspective: prophets and sinners do not mix. Being righteous before God meant separating yourself from sinners, avoiding them, looking down on them. Sinners were contagious. Anyone righteous before God would spot that a mile away. Simon had heard a lot about this woman too: we don’t know what she did, but she must have been a notorious sinner if even the Pharisees had heard of her. If Simon was looking for proof to “flunk” Jesus on his test of being a prophet, this was it: “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him,that she is a sinner.” If Jesus didn’t know the woman, if he were a prophet, God would have told Him she was sinner and a source of ritual impurity at least, moral corruption at worst.
But Jesus read Simon’s heart, the hearts of the invited guests, the heart of the uninvited guest, and taught them that letting some into your home and letting them into your heart are two different things. The list of signs of hospitality Jesus told Simon about were not hospitality that was expected for a guest, but signs that showed how much the guest meant to the host. They were signs of esteem, appreciation, love. The sinful woman didn’t just try inviting Jesus over. Given her reputation, she probably thought he wouldn’t have accepted, being a righteous man. But it wasn’t just about fear of humiliation, or she wouldn’t have gone and walked into a house full of Pharisees who knew she was a sinner and probably would have beaten her and thrown her out. But she sought something the law by itself couldn’t give: forgiveness. St. Paul in the Second Reading today speaks of it as justification: becoming “just” before God, becoming righteous before God, is not about doing the works of the law alone: on their own they are worthless. It takes faith in Jesus to make us righteous before God.
Jesus didn’t deny that the woman had not only sinned, but committed “many” sins, so she went to him and showed that she appreciated what Jesus was giving her: forgiveness. Some have considered the Second Reading as a pretext for not worrying about being religiously observant, but what God is saying is that the “law”: the works you do, the code of conduct you follow, should be the way you show Jesus that you have let him into your heart, a way to show appreciation for not only creating you, but redeeming you. The Pharisees had forgotten about forgiveness, and God, in the Person of his Son, had to remind them that what God wanted was “mercy and not sacrifice.” They had used religious works for themselves, and to build up prestige, but also as a distance between them and God in their hearts. But forgiveness is shown by love. The more forgiveness, the more love. The Pharisees didn’t love much because they hadn’t been forgiven much. They were religious, they were observant of what they though God expected of them. And the ones who were hypocrites, whose hearts were far from God, showed hate for Jesus instead of love. All the way to Calvary. To see someone minister forgiveness on this earth was shocking to the Pharisees, which is why they murmured at Jesus’ words. God alone could forgive sins. If they had faith, they would have at least seen Jesus as the Messiah whom God sent to liberate people from their sins. And their faith would have grown to see Jesus was God, and resolved their difficulty. Jesus never stops inviting souls to come to His hearts not only to receive love and forgiveness, but to learn love a forgiveness as well.
Faith and love lead us to not only to go to where Jesus is, but to follow him. The Gospel tells us that the women who followed Jesus and the Twelve and supported them in their ministry had also let Jesus into their hearts in order to be healed. Their faith and love for Jesus grew, and was translated into good works. Love and forgiveness from Jesus becomes love and forgiveness for others. This is the best way to follow him. When we let Jesus into our hearts, not just into a corner of our house like maybe a salesman we’re trying to be polite to but hoping he’ll making his sales pitch and leave, we are transformed by his grace.
Ask Our Lord for the grace to see how much Simon is in you and how much of the follower who wants and shows forgiveness and love. Have you let Jesus into your heart completely or just a corner?