Jesus and the Prostitute

4th Pentecost, please read Luke 7:36-8:3


How many tears must fall

At Jesus feet

Before we are washed

By compassion or guilt.


The woman who has loved much

Is forgiven much.

Those who love little

Forgive little.


She could hold a lifetime of


Instead she shed her tears,

And washed The Masters feet.


And the master sees her

Beautiful vulnerability

Ravaged by the many

Who used her.


A woman might shed a tear

Or two for her.


A man troubled

By collective and

Personal  complicity

Withholds his tears


And In the secret

Of his dark room

Remembers how he used her

To cool his dangerous lust.


Desperate to find love

Where there is little love.

He now creeps to the feet

Of the master


And weeps

For all the trafficked

Parts of his soul.


A reporter for Seven Days,, a weekly newspaper in Vermont has been recording his experience with prostitution in Chittenden County. He entered about five places that labeled themselves as Spas and reported on what transpired. He raised the troubling issue of human trafficking:  How mostly Asian women, largely Korean, find their way into the States and into this dark underworld of abuse and exploitation. Most of the profits go to the owners of these establishments. The women, one imagines, pay the owners back for smuggling them into the country.  If they are lucky they have some left over to send home to struggling families in their homeland.

Prostitution is one of the oldest professions it is said and we are not surprised by it. We turn a blind eye to its human and spiritual toll. If we placed ourselves in the position of these women we might shed a tear. I believe women will have access to those tears more easily than men. Yet there is so much denial around prostitution, that I suspect even the tears of No American women is strained.

Jesus’s remarkable fluidity and grace in this situation with the prostitute is a picture into the soul of his and our true humanity. While his host is embarrassed. Jesus receives the woman, welcomes her, and forgives her. The woman represents the plight of women who find themselves made powerless in a patriarchal world.

Jesus does three things. Receives and welcomes her, He listens and comforts her, and he forgives her. His religious host is scandalized.  Didn’t he know that she was a sinner?  And how could he forgive, who gave him that authority?  Only God can forgive.

The parts of us that have been unloved agree; the parts that are finely tuned to judgment.  We can dwell there for a time and luxuriate in our moral superiority. Doesn’t that feel good? But that grows old after awhile. Jesus even as a young man knew that the path to God is not through spiritual pride. He is much more critical of the spiritually proud than he is of the prostitute or the tax collector, or the enemy. The woman offers an opportunity to teach an essential lesson about the spiritual life and about our humanity. Our vulnerability and love opens us to God. Our hard heartedness drives us away.

Our failure to see through the eyes of those who are trafficked for prostitution, to experience their sorrow and their degradation is an example of how we are removed from the love of God. It is more than forgiveness from above and outside the life of the sinner, it is entering into the lost heart of the sinner, it is in living into their experience and their reasons and rationalizations and oppression.

In a way it is true, only God can forgive. The religious host is right. Our forgiveness can be so darn condescending and inflating of our spiritual generosity.  Only when we can weep together with those who are in need of our forgiveness, whether in our relationships or as a spiritual exercise, does forgiveness begin to bring its healing power to the situation. As long as we stand outside the world of the oppressed we will never see our complicity in her oppression.

What would it mean to forgive the oppressor? The oppressor is not one to admit or confront his or her sin. While the oppressor is as wounded in some or more ways than the one he oppresses, he will not move until confronted by a weeping world. He will not be moved until the stones cry out and he is face to face with his own woundedness, and is driven at last to the feet of Jesus where he in secret weeps his brokenness.

Is their justice? Yes and No. Whitey Bugler gets caught, Hitler is defeated, and Stalin is dead. Finally the war in Iraq is finished for us, leaving sectarian suffering and violence. The young Boston bomber is incarcerated. Yes there is a sort of justice. Most of us sinners will turn from our wicked ways before the sin becomes a way of life and we are lost to God and to hope.  Only a few will persist and remove themselves from God’s mercy.

The Dalai Lama says that we mostly hear about what is unjust and terrible in the world. It is reported in the press, because it is so unusual. Most people do not behave that way. Most people try to be kind and compassionate.

In the end will and does the prostitute have the ability to forgive? She and the other women become followers of Jesus and follow him all the way to Jerusalem and the cross. These are the ones who bring the message of his resurrection. So I think so. I think she has learned how to forgive.

Who can speak for all the oppressed of the earth, how they forgive; or if they must? In a world where there is only justice and no mercy few stand a chance.

I return again and again, to Jane Kenyon’s poem about heaven. She was struggling with terminal cancer and she imagined she had died and was looking at life from beyond. She wrote, “and God, as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.”

We have a wonderful image of God’s merciful loving kindness in this story that stands up to the ages. We through Jesus are invited to become the vulnerable bearers of forgiveness to a weeping world.

In her self-affirmation a woman named Catherine Ponder wrote about forgiveness as the goal and hope for her own healing. Maybe there are some things only God can forgive. Many things we can let go.

Catherine Ponders work to learn forgiveness gave her the following affirmation as a daily point of reference and her lifelong challenge. The woman who wept at the feet of Jesus may have had a similar reference as she lived out the rest of her new and forgiven life.

All that has offended me, I forgive. Within and without, I forgive. Things past, things present, things future I forgive. I forgive everything and everyone who can possibly need forgiveness in my past and present. I forgive positively everyone. I am free, and all others are free too. All things are cleared up between us now and forever. – Catherine Ponder Affirmation

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