One of my favorite ways of praying with Scripture is to place myself in the story, to imagine all the sights and sounds and smells and become part of the scene that’s being laid out.
There’s a Gospel story that we read during the Ignatian spiritual exercises over Lent that I keep coming back to, the one about the woman with the alabaster jar (Luke 7:36-50). In it, Jesus is at dinner with a Pharisee, when a women with a jar of ointment, in tears, interrupts their dinner and is crying so much that she’s washing Jesus’ feet with her tears. THEN, she wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair, kisses them, and rubs ointment all over his feet.
As I prayed with this Scripture passage, I imagined this scene unfold before me. I imagined sitting at the table, having dinner with Jesus and the Pharisee when this woman with a jar of ointment shows up at the door and walks in, uninvited.
And while I’ve heard this story countless times before, and know how it ends (spoiler alert: the woman is kind of the hero of the story), in praying with this Scripture a few weeks ago, I found myself having this visceral, really negative reaction to the woman with the jar of ointment — to the point where I’m trying not to cringe.
The act of her washing his feet feels so intimate and extravagant, so uncomfortable for me to watch, that my only thought is that this woman is TOO MUCH. I can’t handle it, and I’m embarrassed for her, she’s disrupting the status quo, the way things are supposed to be and how people are supposed to act, and SHE’S NOT DOING IT RIGHT.
And then, there’s Jesus’ reaction. Jesus knows full well what Simon the Pharisee thinks: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him — that she is a sinner.” The implication is that if Jesus really knew who this woman was, he would never have even let her come close.
Rather than piling on and echoing the Pharisee’s words of judgment and disgust, Jesus puts it pretty bluntly (and I’m paraphrasing here): Do you see this woman? She’s doing everything right. Her sins (which were many) have been forgiven, and through her actions here today, she is showing great love in response.
Do you want to know what God showed me as I prayed with this Scripture passage?
That the voice of the Pharisee was much louder in my mind than Jesus’ voice.
That I needed to stop paying attention to all those negative voices and feelings that bubble up as the woman is washing Jesus’ feet. Because that wasn’t Jesus’ voice.
That I am the woman with the alabaster jar.
All the tears that she shed out of gratitude for God’s boundless forgiveness and unshakable love. That’s me.
That there is no such thing as “too much” for God.
That one of the reasons God loves me is because I am extra, and I don’t have to keep apologizing or feel embarrassed about it.
God is good.