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“Do you see this woman?”

That is the question Jesus poses to Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7 during Luke’s account of the anointing of Jesus by a sinful woman. Jesus has been invited to dine at Simon’s house, whom Luke tells us, is a Pharisee. Although not mentioned, it is assumed other guests of influence were also in attendance. This was a grand party. In the middle of the banquet “a sinful woman” comes into the house, walks over to Jesus, lets her hair down, and in tears begins to wash Jesus’s feet. It’s a strange sight, as the woman completely disrupts the dinner banquet. Every eye in the room is on her, and the whispers and comments about her presence are growing louder by the minute. Thus, Jesus asks a somewhat obvious question.

Do you see this woman?

Of course Simon sees this woman. Everyone sees this woman. She has walked into the middle of the room and disrupted everything. She is a woman of the city who is often avoided because she is a woman of the city.  She is seen by everyone because everyone is always trying to avoid her. She walks in the room and no one talks to her. She walks down the street and everyone moves to the opposite side of the street. Simon clearly sees her, everyone sees her. What a silly question to ask?

Yet Jesus asks the question, do you see this woman?

It’s interesting how we can see things, and not really see.

Richard Beck, in his book Unclean, discusses the phenomenon of disgust psychology, that there are certain activities or traits that subconsciously disgust us and cause us to pull away, even when it makes no sense. For instance, we drink our own saliva, as saliva is produced in our mouths and then we swallow it. However, it disgusts us to think of spitting saliva into a cup, and then drinking it. Once the saliva has left our bodies it somehow becomes unclean. We don’t often think about why some things are disgusting, they just are. These are learned traits that we develop in life.

It’s possible then, that not only do some things that we might eat or drink disgust us, such as food that has fallen on the ground, but also some people or actions might disgust us. Even though all sins are the same, certain sins may “disgust us” more than others. For instance, sexual sins might disgust us more than pride or gossip. Therefore, while we want to accept everyone, we may unconsciously push away from those who disgust us for one reason or another. We are often drawn toward those who are like us (same skin color, same socioeconomic status) more than those who are different. This is not a conscious decision. It’s happening below the surface, which makes it even more dangerous. We may see the sinful woman, but we may not really see the sinful woman.

How do we break this cycle and learn to see?

While that question is complex, Jesus gives us part of the answer in his dialogue with Simon.

A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed 500 denari (over a year an a half worth of wages) and another 50 denari (less than two months wages). Neither could pay so the moneylender cancelled both debts. Now, which debtor would love the moneylender more? The one whose larger debt was cancelled. Jesus then says those who are forgiven much love much, but those who are forgiven little, love little.

Part of the key to see beyond our own blindness is to develop a healthy recognition of our own sinfulness, and thus need for forgiveness. It seems that when one is forced to admit one’s own mistakes, it becomes easier to grant mercy to others who are in need of forgiveness. The more I come to grips with my own unworthiness, not to wallow in self-pity, but a healthy grasp of my own mistakes, the more willing I typically am to grant others the benefit of the doubt in their own mistakes, and offer them a second chance.

I’m reminded of the story of David, Bathsheba, and Nathan recorded in 1 Samuel. David commits a horrible sin with Bathsheba, and then has Uriah killed to try to cover up his own transgression. Nathan comes in to confront David, and tells him a story about a wealthy land owner who owned countless sheep, and the man’s neighbor who had one little ewe lamb that he loved as his own. The wealthy land owner has a friend come for dinner, but instead of taking one of his own lambs for the meal, the wealthy land owner steals his neighbor’s lamb and feeds his guest with it. David is furious, this man must pay David declares. Then Nathan tells David, you are that man. David, confronted with his own sin responds with grief, asking for forgiveness, and then pens the words to Psalm 51. David, confronted with his own blindness, sees his own sin, and learns to love others out of the love he has received.

Often, it is forgiven sinners who learn to see others who have sinned, and offer forgiveness.

May we all see “this woman” the way Jesus does, not as an outcast, but one to be loved.