Nobody likes a gatecrasher.
If I were organizing a party, I wouldn’t want anyone who’s not on my guest list to come barging into my party to mingle with the rest of my crowd. And if someone else were throwing a party in my honor, I’d probably feel pretty much the same way . I mean, it’s supposed to be my party, right? So I should be able to choose who gets to join it and who doesn’t. So you see, I wouldn’t exactly be thrilled if a bunch of uninvited and unwelcome guests suddenly showed up at the door—unless maybe they brought pizza, of course!
Seriously tough, that’s exactly how the party organizer in our Gospel reading must have felt when this woman gatecrashed the dinner he was throwing for this new celebrity in town called Jesus. To make matters worse, the gatecrasher was—to put it bluntly—a prostitute. Never mind if she brought along an alabaster jar of costly ointment that the host himself hadn’t even cared to provide his guest of honor. Why should she be welcome? We can just imagine all the raised questions—and the raised eyebrows—in that dining room?
And let’s imagine how Simon the host must have felt! It’s quite possible that he seethed in self-righteous indignation. He was a Pharisee, after all, and we know the battles our Lord had fought with them all throughout his Public Ministry, battles over their hypocritical obsession for righteousness and their notorious allergy to anything sinful and impure. Maybe he was also worried— that this woman’s sudden appearance would spoil the party, that her continued presence would cause impurity in his own house, or worse—that he would himself be the talk of the town for associating with such sinners.
But apparently, the celebrity in whose honor the party had been organized had no such issues with the gatecrasher. It seems that from the very first moment our Lord laid eyes on this unwanted guest, he who could read hearts saw the depths of emotions welling up in the woman’s heart: She was, first of all, afraid–afraid of the contempt so palpable in that room, afraid of the disdain that was no stranger to her, following her almost all her life, but whose face and voice she could never quite get used to; and most of all, afraid of rejection not so much from the host or the crowd (that she had grown used to and come to expect from the likes of them!), but rejection from this holy teacher, the very person whom she had come to see. That would be most unbearable!
But apart from her fear, our Lord also recognized what else lay beneath it. He saw that this woman carried with her a burden, a secret alabaster jar apart from the one she held in her hands: a jar full of remorse and shame—a toxic concoction that was anything but balm. And our Lord also detected that mixed in there somewhere was a pinch of hope and–surprises of surprises!–heaps upon heaps of love reserved for him. And all this the woman desired, more than anything else, to pour on him. That was the very reason why she gatecrashed in the first place!
And because of that, as expected, she had him at hello. As always, for the Lord Jesus, everything else faded in importance to the periphery of the universe; nothing else mattered: Where his hosts and the party crowd, including his own disciples, saw only the woman’s sinfulness, our Lord recognized only her love, which is exactly what he pointed out to his hosts and all the others whose names had been included in the guest list.
The parable that Jesus proceeded to tell about the two debtors was his response to the judgmental thoughts of Simon the Pharisee. Here’s my take:
his point is not that the one who loves more is forgiven more, but that the one who has been forgiven more loves more. Here we have another one of Jesus’ perplexing paradoxes, another one of his divine reversals: Righteousness is the effect and not the cause of forgiveness. We mere mortals focus on people’s sins and weigh their righteousness before we forgive; we want to first assess whether or not they deserve our forgiveness before we grant it to them. God, according to Jesus, sets no such condition. This is why it mattered not to the creditor the amount of the debt he was going to write off. This is why the Prophet Nathan did not even hesitate before absolving King David of his sins almost the same moment he said he was sorry. This is why what mattered to Jesus was not the woman’s righteousness or lack of it, but the gratitude and love that would result from his forgiveness of her sins. In other words, at any given day, in Jesus’ book—and in God’s–love trumps righteousness.
For me, this entire episode, interestingly, may be considered a parable as well—a parable about the Kingdom of God. Simply put: In God’s banquet, there are no gatecrashers. There is no guest list in the first place! We know from another parable that the guest list has been, in fact, tossed out the window. Every loser, every sinner, and every slob from every conceivable highway and byway has been invited and is welcome. We each one of us, regardless of our righteousness or sinfulness, are welcome.
When we think about it, doesn’t this bring us to the very heart of our Christian faith? Our Lord Jesus allowed himself to be excluded—stretching wide his arms on the cross and suffering the death of an outcast—so that all of us, regardless of our righteousness or sins, may be included in God’s embrace. The only outsiders in the kingdom are those who exclude others, like the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees and like the Elder Brother in that other parable).
And so, dear friends, f we want to join the party, we need to toss out our own guest lists and exclude no one from our own private little banquets because in God’s banquet, there are no gatecrashers. Thanks to our Lord Jesus, no one is excluded—except those who exclude others.
Let us pray that God will grant each one of us a heart as large as His, with room enough to include all His children.