One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”
Jesus said to him… “Simon, two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”
“That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”
(Jesus) said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
(Luke 7:36-50, MSG)
Jesus asks Simon “Do you see this woman?”
This is probably one of the most provocative questions Jesus asks anyone in the Gospels: Do you see this person? When you look at a person, whether it is someone you have known for a long time, or someone you just met; what do you see? When was the last time you stood in line at the grocery store and saw the person in front of you? The person behind you? The cashier ringing up peoples groceries? When was the last time you went to your favorite fast food place and actually saw the person behind the counter?
Do you see this person?
Not the color of their skin. Not how tall they are. Not that they are skinny or overweight. Not their reputation, or their pleasant or not so pleasant nature. The person behind all that…
Do you ever see Jesus?
Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of these”, those that we see as the least deserving of our care, those who are marginalized and ignored, “you do that to me” (Matthew 25:40). I believe that is a literal statement Jesus makes. Jesus had a tremendous capacity to empathize with those He met, and that is the key to His ability to accept others regardless of their status in life; in fact, gave the most care and nurturing to those of a lower stations in life – the poor, the needy, the hungry, the diseased, the desperate, the sinners.
This makes Jesus very different than Simon the Pharisee in our scripture. Simon only saw a prostitute. He saw her through the eyes of his strict, legalistic, religion. Jesus saw a woman in need of acceptance and care. Simon only saw her as someone who had broken Jewish law, he held her captive to her past; Jesus saw her as forgiven of the past, and for what she was right then, in that moment, and freed her for a future of Love and Grace.
What is the first thing you see when you meet someone new?
What do you think if the first thing people see when they meet you for the first time?
What would Jesus see if he met you for the first time?
Empathy and acceptance are essential aspects of making the Kingdom of God real in our lives. Without them, we cannot follow Jesus, we cannot live the life Jesus lived and the life He wants for us.
I struggle with this because I know that many suffer from social difficulties cause by things like Asperger syndrome. How then can they follow Jesus if their brains do not allow them to feel empathy in the same way I do? Then I realize that those suffering from these difficulties need our empathy even more – for the simple reason that they are struggling.
Churches and Christians struggle with this because we all want to be Simon the Pharisee. We view other peoples worth by how they conform to our standards, or by their past mistakes. Not only do we do that, but let’s be honest, we want to that. Every church I know claims they want more people – but that is not really true. Churches want more people like themselves.
Our society is struggling with this. These are dangerous times in our country. Empathy for each other, empathy for others, seems to have been completely removed from our culture; in fact, it seems to be a dirty word today. This has led to a society polarized to the point where there is no acceptance of others. Bigotry and racism has again emerged from the shadows to become a dominate point of view, even supported by many so called church leaders. I grew up hearing that this was a “Christian” country, but we are not in any way Christian without the ability to empathize with human suffering.
Empathy and acceptance of others are primary in following Jesus Christ. Without them, you can’t; you can’t be a Christian without them since the definition of Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ. With these, we find Jesus’s path to Grace and Love; without them our lives become filled with fear and hate. Without them our churches stagnate and die off; and without them, our society rots from the inside out and disintegrates.
If you want to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and make the Kingdom real in your life, begin with Empathy and Acceptance.