A Reflection by Fr. Idara Otu, MSP, on Luke 7.36-50

Some years ago, a friend told me a story of an American salesman who was sent to promote Coca-Cola in Saudi Arabia. He knew no Arabic and the people knew no English. So he planned to convey the message through three posters. The first poster had a woman lying in the hot desert sand totally exhausted and fainting. The second had the woman drinking Coca-Cola. The third poster had the woman totally refreshed. Unfortunately, no one told him that in Saudi Arabia they read from right to left. What the audience saw was – first, a woman totally refreshed, second, the woman drinking Coca-Cola, and third, a woman lying in the hot desert totally exhausted and fainting. It is often said that what we see depends on where we stand and we see what we want to see. Often there are limitations to what we can see. There is always a sort of blind spot in our vision.

Few biblical scholars have observed that today’s gospel (Luke 7.36-50) concerns seeing. The evangelist Luke understood seeing as a metaphor for perceiving God’s word. In his gospel, Luke has a special place for women. In today’s gospel, he challenges the way men see women and the way women see themselves. The question that Jesus asked Simon, “Do you see this woman?” is the focus of my reflection. Simon saw the sinner; but he didn’t see the woman. Perhaps we too should ask ourselves: “Do I see this woman?  And what do I see?”

For me, I have seen the woman. And what do I see? I see a woman who was called a sinner and not by her name. I see a woman whose dignity is defaced. I see a woman who represents all women and all those who suffer victimization and abuse because of oppressive cultures and structures. I see a woman who symbolizes those who experience all forms of rejection. I see the silence of a woman that points to those who have no voice in many contexts and continents. I see a courageous woman who braved the contempt of the public and ignored cultural stereotypes to meet Jesus and ask for forgiveness.

The other question is, “What did Jesus want Simon and us to see?” Jesus wanted Simon to see as he sees. The parable of the creditor and two debtors was told to clear Simon’s doubt, which made him see the woman as a sinner, and not to see Jesus as a prophet. Jesus wanted Simon to see the woman as God’s child, created in God’s image and with dignity. Jesus wanted Simon to see that he forgives sins and where there is forgiveness, there is more room for love. Jesus wants us to see that the woman represents humanity he came to save. Jesus wants us to see that he does not hold back forgiveness and wants us to do the same. Jesus wants us to know that he sees and loves each of us for who we are and not for what people think we are.

Today, there are millions of people who feel invisible and just want to be seen for who they are. It’s easy to see a person from the prism of religion, ideology, nationality, gender etc. But the question remains, “Do you see the real person?” When we see people the way Jesus sees them, then we truly do see. Love is the eyesight of Jesus. We are not salesmen who advertise Jesus for people to see … We are missionaries – the eyes through which to look out Christ’s love and mercy to the world (St. Teresa of Avila).

God of mercy, who heals every one of our ills, look kindly on us who trust you not to treat us according to our sins. Grant all that we need to be truly people who live the gospel of forgiveness taught and practiced by your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.