Women Disciples

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.” Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance.

And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”

And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that

“          ‘Seeing they may not see,

            And hearing they may not understand.’

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.

“No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light. Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.””

(Luke 7:36–8:18)

The following is a hymn from Holy Week:

“O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins, perceiving Thy Divinity, fulfilled the part of a myrrh-bearer; and with lamentations she brought sweet-smelling oil of myrrh to Thee before Thy burial. ‘Woe is me,’ she said, ‘for night surrounds me, dark and moonless, and stings my lustful passion with the love of sin. Accept the fountain of my tears, O Thou Who drawest down from the clouds the waters of the sea. Incline to the groanings of my heart, O Thou Who in Thine ineffable self-emptying hast bowed down the heavens. I shall kiss Thy Most Pure feet and wipe them with the hairs of my head, those feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise and hid herself for fear. Who can search out the multitude of my sins and the abyss of Thy judgments, O Savior of my soul? Despise me not, Thine handmaiden, for Thou hast mercy without measure.”

We learn so many interesting things when we read long passages in the gospels, and piece various stories together. This gospel reading focusses on the presence of women in the ministry of Jesus. The woman who was considered untouchable and unclean came to Jesus with such great gratitude. What is remarkable to me is that we don’t know the back story about why she was weeping and anointing Jesus’ feet! Why Jesus? We know what sins she had committed, but why was she so dedicated to Jesus? She hadn’t even met him before.

They hymn of Kassiani tells us that the woman perceived his divinity. That really is the only thing that I think explains why she would come up to him and do that. To weep. To wash His feet. She has come to give him the sacrifice of her tears which come from “a heart that is broken and humbled.” She somehow knew that she was meeting her God, and she wanted to be reconciled to Him. She wanted to start a new life. We knew that only Christ, her God, could create in her a clean heart.

She was saying, “Please tell me that it is not too late for me to change, and for me to be forgiven.” All the horror and guilt she carried, and the fear of God’s wrath came gushing out. It is as if the slightest bit of hope caused a fracture in a dam, and suddenly all the waters that had accumulated burst forth because of the smallest bit of hope.

This is the model of the Orthodox Christian life. Our tears burst forth most forcefully when our greatest sorrow and pain, our fear and humiliation, collide with hope and joy. We become more eager and act with more urgency at that moment. That is the “sweet-spot” of the Christian life.

This is what Jesus means when he says to his host, “the one who is forgiven much loves much.” Notice that he says, “your sins are forgiven” after she washes his feet. The same is seen in the resurrection. The women came with myrrh to the tomb before they found out that he had risen. Before they knew that the stone was rolled away, they came anyway. It wasn’t until they had already left their houses, and were already walking on the road that they asked each other how they were going to accomplish their task. Who would roll away the stone? They began their journey first. A tiny hope of being allowed to give a gift to their Lord was enough to motivate them to get up early and do this.

When the sinful woman washes Jesus’ feet, he does not rob her of her urgency and longing immediately. He allows her urgency to work its healing power within her. Sorrow and shock at our sinfulness is a gift. It moves us. It can only move us to change because we have hope. Otherwise it would paralyze us. But we need it.

In our reading it says that Jesus continued his ministry and three more women are mentioned: Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susannah. It explains who Mary Magdalene and Joanna are, but not Susannah. This is probably because it was expected that anyone reading this passage would know who she was. What does it say about the place of women in the church, that one of them is assumed to be that well known?

But we may also ask why it is that these women are mentioned in this specific place of the gospel? Why now, especially since it comes between the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet and the parable of the sower?

The text says that the women provided for Jesus. Joanna was the wife of a man who worked for a king, so she had access to money. So in this sense, the women are the sowers. They saw that Jesus was their only hope, and so they used what they had in order to allow that hope to come to more people. They responded to His love by giving a sacrifice.

The women do not know what seeds will bear fruit. They don’t know if it will work. Some seeds will not grow. Jesus mentions three types of seeds that did not grow, and only one group that did. We do not know what God will do with our gifts. We give it for our own sake, like myrrh on his feet. Urgent repentance does not buy our salvation. It is a result of the collision between our sorrow over our sins and the hope we have that there is redemption.

Giving is not something we do in order to accomplish specific projects. Urgent giving is the result of our hope that God will teach us compassion and holiness. Giving is an enactment of the life and the mode of being that we know God is able to create within us. We need to give thanks. We need to give alms. The more we have, the harder it is to give. But how great a gift it is for us to arise early in the morning and walk together with the myrrh bearing women, only to find that Christ is risen, and that the kernel of wheat which fell into the ground has sprouted and bears fruit!

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