Isn’t it funny how you can look at something, and look at it, and look at it, and see the same thing, and then again look at it and see something completely different? I guess we’ve all stared at drawings like Wittgenstein’s duck/rabbit, or the old woman/young maiden drawing, or the one that at one moment looks like a bird and at another the head of a goat, and dozens of other such eye puzzlers. With some of them we can learn to shift the frame of reference at will and see either; with others we are well and truly stuck—I’m thinking of that one that circulated a couple of years ago, in which we have all seen a dress of one color scheme and not the other, and we have all been adamant that whoever claimed to see an entirely different color scheme was either crazy or lying.
How many times, in my six decades, have I heard or read the story of Jesus and the woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36–50)? But I can tell you that never once have I read it and asked myself these questions, or heard it and been asked them by someone else (at least not in a way that I understood and took to heart! though I may well have missed what someone said—from the perspective of others—quite plainly):
- What could I do or say or feel, or what could happen to me, that would put me into this story in the place of the woman who planted herself next to Jesus and wept over him until she got his feet so wet that she could wash them with those tears?
- What could I do that would put me in the place of this woman who fell to her knees next to Jesus as he reclined at table, let down her hair, and dried his feet with it?
- How could I do the equivalent of covering his washed and dried feet with kisses?
- What bottle of precious oil do I have that I could open and pour out onto the feet of Jesus?
- What depth of love, what singular focus on Jesus alone and forgetfulness of everyone else around, would have to overtake me before I could humble myself and open myself so completely, before I could undertake this weeping, this kneeling and loosing and drying, this kissing, this anointing without either dying of shame or wallowing in exhibitionistic self-righteousness?
- And if I have not seen myself as, and been, this woman, and entered fully into her weeping, kneeling, washing, drying, kissing, and anointing, could it be because I have seen only the duck and never the rabbit, have been only the duck and never the rabbit, have been only Simon and never the woman: glad to host Jesus, proud to offer him measured hospitality, along with other guests, preserving and enhancing my own dignity, not aware of the Other that he enfleshes and makes present, and not aware of my own deep, aching, near-death need of something that only this Other can give? Not aware of my own need for forgiveness, for grace, for The Gift?