A man called Gary Chapman wrote a book called ‘The Five Love Languages’. In it he explained what he had noticed in his years as a marriage counsellor about the way that people express their love for one another. He called these ways ‘love languages’ and explained that each person has a primary language. If we are to help that person feel loved, we need to ‘speak’ that language to them.
Some need to hear words of affirmation and appreciation spoken to them. If they find that what they have done is noticed and commented on, they feel loved.
For others it’s being in receipt of some kind of act of service that they feel loved. All the words in the world won’t speak to a person like this. Instead they need to see love acted out in order to feel it.
Society often assumes that we will give gifts to one another on special occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Sometimes this can become tedious if a group of people always want to out-do each other in the generosity of their gifts. However, for some people, receiving a little gift at an unexpected time can help them to feel they are loved. We probably all know of the parent who treasures a card that a child has made for them. It’s not the monetary value that counts but the thought.
Actually paying full attention to the loved one can be essential to some. Not for them the partial attention as someone does something else at the same time; multitasking is out. What is needed is undivided attention in order to feel loved.
The fifth language is touch. It’s the first language we learn as babies. Babies who are not handled lovingly often fail to thrive; we are born needing tender touch and we don’t lose that need.
Love and lack of love are written within the Gospel passage for today.
It was not unusual for a rabbi to be invited for a meal after a synagogue service. We don’t know the motive of Simon in inviting Jesus. It might be that he really wanted to learn from him or possibly, like others during Jesus’ ministry, he might have wanted to catch Jesus out with a trick question.
News spreads in small communities and the whereabouts of Jesus seldom seem to have been secret. The unnamed woman found out where Jesus was dining. She bought a jar of costly ointment or perfume and entered the house. As was the custom at that time, guests reclined on couches to eat, with their heads towards the table and their feet away from it. Because of the arrangement of the diners, she could approach from behind Jesus, probably seen first by Simon who is likely to have been across the table from Jesus so that they could converse. We are told that the woman was a sinner, probably a prostitute. It’s obvious that Simon knew who she was, or at least what kind of person she was. Pharisees tried hard to keep themselves separated from sinners as they feared being contaminated by their sin and becoming unclean. Simon would have been none too pleased to have such a person come right inside his home.
We’re told that the woman wept as she stood behind Jesus, letting her tears fall on his feet. It might appear that the woman was sorrowful about her way of life and was weeping in repentance but it’s more likely that her tears were tears of joy, which we will see as the story unfolds. Using her hair, the woman dried Jesus’ feet. Loose hair was a sign of a loose woman; I have no doubt the others present looked on her with disapproval but that didn’t stop her. Having dried Jesus’ feet, the woman kissed them and then anointed them with the perfume.
The woman used the love language of an act of service towards Jesus in the way she acted by washing his feet. She had bought a very costly gift to show love also. Despite being watched with disapproval she gave her full attention to the task she was performing. She also kissed Jesus’ feet, a tender touch to show love. Long before Gary Chapman wrote his book, this unnamed woman employed four out of the five love languages in her interaction with Jesus. As far as we know she didn’t use words.
We can imagine that Simon reclined there getting more and more annoyed by this embarrassing display of emotion by such a woman in his house. In his heart he was judging the woman as a sinner and judging Jesus as less than a prophet because he was apparently unaware of the kind of woman she was. This is rather ironical as, though Simon said nothing, Jesus was able to see into his heart and discern his lack of love. In this way Jesus showed that he was indeed a prophet.
Rather than taking a direct approach Jesus, somewhat like the prophet Nathan when he confronted King David about his deeds, used a parable to make his point. Simon had little choice but to respond correctly, although he sounded a little tentative when he said, “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.” Perhaps Simon sensed that the parable was aimed at him. And so, far from Jesus being trapped by something he said in response to Simon, Simon himself was backed into a corner by Jesus’ parable of the two debtors who were forgiven their debts. He had to acknowledge that the one forgiven most would love most (‘to love’ in Hebrew means ‘to show gratitude’).
Jesus was then able to point out how Simon had not shown even basic hospitality towards him. The minimum was water to wash the feet of guests as the roads were dusty and sandals gave little protection. It would also be customary to give a kiss of greeting and to anoint a guest’s head with oil. Simon, so concerned about the niceties of behaviour in his house and so keen to keep all contamination out, didn’t even display basic politeness to his guest. Meanwhile, as Jesus pointed out, the woman had made up for the deficit by her actions.
As Jesus explained the parable, he showed that the woman’s actions were borne of gratitude. He acknowledged that she was a sinner but that her sins were forgiven. It was because they had been forgiven that she acted as she did; her forgiveness did not come as a result of her actions. She was not performing some act of penance in order to convince Jesus to forgive her. She must have heard Jesus’ teaching at some point and accepted Jesus as her saviour, being saved by faith as Jesus confirmed. She knew her sins were many but she also knew they were forgiven. In contrast, Simon followed the law and presumably considered that he was not particularly sinful. As a result he didn’t feel the same love and gratitude towards Jesus and this showed in his actions.
As Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, the law is not able to save anyone:
“We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.”
The law, which Simon the Pharisee was following actually did not help him. It caused him to judge others unfavourably and damaged his ability to love.
Here on Epiphany Island we offer a welcome to those who come here, in imitation of the welcome Jesus offered that woman and others. We are not waiting for them to behave in the right way in order to earn a place in our community. We welcome people in all their mess and confusion and difficulties. We trust that once welcomed they will come to believe the gospel. Once they believe they will begin to find their behaviour transformed as a response to the love they learn that Jesus has for them and the forgiveness he offers them.
Each of us has been forgiven by Jesus. However, we cannot let our tears of gratitude fall on his feet, or kiss and anoint his feet. What we can do is speak the languages of love to those whom we meet online and offline. Jesus said that whatever we do to another we do to him and so in that way we join the woman in her actions towards our Lord who has given us so much.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor