The Curmudgeon


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Bad Theology

Text for today: Luke 7 xxxvi-xlvii

While Jesus is dining with a Pharisee, a sinful woman appears with a jar of perfume and grovels at His feet, wetting them with her tears and drying them with her hair before pouring the perfume over them. When the Pharisee wonders if Jesus knows that a sinner is touching Him, Jesus tells a parable of two debtors whose debts were cancelled, the moral being that the relationship between God and humankind, far from having its basis in absolute and unconditional love, is an essentially commercial transaction in which whoever is forgiven most will love most. Jesus then observes that none of the services performed for Him by the sinful woman were performed by the law-abiding Pharisee, because the magnitude of a person's love for Jesus depends on the magnitude of the debt which He is empowered to forgive them.

The woman's behaviour is identical to that of Mary of Bethany in the other three gospels; although Jesus gives that incident a different meaning to this one, deeming Mary's action a preparation for His burial. Immediately after the incident in Luke's gospel, several women are mentioned who ministered to Jesus and his followers, including the wife of a royal servant (Luke 8 i-iii). Given His evident appeal to bored and wealthy females, it seems eminently possible that outbursts of lachrymose adoration were a repeated and perhaps a frequent occurrence during the Saviour's ministry. If not for the expense involved in purchasing the necessary ointment, such displays might even have been a daily fixture.

In this case, the moral Jesus draws is the same as for the parables of the lost sheep, the labourers in the vineyard and the prodigal son; namely that righteousness and keeping the law are of scant significance in the eyes of Jesus and His Father. Mere abstention from sin is next to no use at all: in propitiating arbitrary tyrants only repentence and grovelling will suffice. Hence there is good reason to believe the Saviour's assertion that those who have less to grovel about will be regarded less favourably in the eyes of heaven. It follows, comfortingly enough, that serious and persistent violations of God's law are not only forgivable but welcome, provided they are paid for with a sufficiently melodramatic self-abasement.


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