I’ve struggled to write about the verses from this week’s reading (Luke 7:36-50) twice now in the last few weeks (first, when I was writing a Lent devotion and now again today). I didn’t want to write about them; I felt like I had nothing to say. The story of the woman who perfumes and kisses Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair simply didn’t resonate with me. “I’m stumped,” I emailed my pastor, and while her reply about love and forgiveness helped, I found I still didn’t want to write about this particular story.
I finally figured out why.
The woman in the story makes me uncomfortable. Not because she’s a sinner, a “bad person,” an “immoral woman,” but because of the way she loves.
When I think about the prostitute who lavished attention on Jesus with her alabaster jar and her expensive perfume, her weeping and foot-kissing and hair wiping, I want to tell her to get ahold of herself, to get up off the floor, stop making a scene and act properly. Her dramatic display of adoration and affection makes me uncomfortable. It makes me uneasy because it’s so raw, such a pure, extravagant, over-the-top display.
As I read this story for the umpteenth time, I tried to imagine how I would react if I met Jesus in person. I suspect I’d offer him a cup of tea, maybe shake his hand, stammer that I admire his work. But would I throw myself at his feet? Would I pour my whole self into the moment, toss caution to the wind, disregard what anyone might think or say about me and simply love him with abandon?
Doubtful. I’d be too worried what people might think of me, the crazy lady with the perfume and the hair.
Like so many spiritual lessons, this one comes down to trust. The prostitute trusts Jesus enough to give herself entirely to him. Because she puts him first, nothing stands in her way: not others’ opinions, not her pride, not even her sins. Because she trusts Jesus, she has the courage to love with abandon. I think this might even be part of the reason the Pharisees reacted so harshly – they were uneasy with the woman’s exuberant, unadulterated display of pure love because they hadn’t allowed such love to be unleashed in themselves. They couldn’t imagine acting that way with Jesus. They didn’t trust God enough to let go.
I know there are innumerable ways to demonstrate our love for God. We can love quietly and contemplatively. We can love through service. We can love God through loving others, through sacrifice, through prayer, through thanksgiving. And while I know wild, unfettered love isn’t something God requires of me, I also know he presented this story to me not once, but twice, to illustrate that there’s still much room for me to grow. The kind of unabashed love demonstrated by the prostitute need not make me uncomfortable. It’s available to me, to all of us. But we need to trust in order to love.
Try to picture what it might be like to meet Jesus in person. How would you react? Would you lavish love on him like the woman in this story, or might you be more reserved? What, if anything, does that say about your trust in God and your faith?
Linking with Ann Voskamp’s Walk with Him Wednesday series…because is there anything more radical than learning to love?
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