OWL Scripture Reflection – Summer 2022
By Amy Johnson
UCC Minister for Sexuality Education and Justice
36 One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to dinner. Jesus went to his house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman who had a low reputation in that town came to the house. She had learned that Jesus was dining with the Pharisee, so she brought with her an alabaster jar of perfumed oil. 38 She stood behind Jesus, crying, and her tears fell on his feet. Then she dried his feet with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the oil.–Luke 7:36-38 The Inclusive Bible
This scripture passage that describes a woman coming to Jesus and using her tears to wash his feet, her hair to dry them, her kisses and inordinately expensive perfumed oil to anoint them. I find it to be one of the most beautiful, sensual and intimate passages in the entire bible.
This story occurs in some version in all four gospels. In two of the gospels, she is described simply as a woman, in another, she is identified as Mary, sister of Lazarus. In this Luke passage, she is described as a sinner or woman of low reputation. In every case, she is admonished in some way—for using the expensive oil for Jesus rather than selling it and giving money to the poor, or simply for being a woman whom a man judges as having a low reputation.
In the patriarchal culture of first-century Israel, having a woman—any woman—arrive and interrupt a dinner with Pharisees, and to do so in such an intimate and extravagant way, was frowned upon.
However, we women are used to being frowned upon, even today.
We get frowned upon for what we wear, how we wear it, what we do and how we do it, what our body shape and size is, what color our skin is, how we wear our hair, what we teach our children, what we eat, drink, and say—and even what we preach. We are used to being frowned upon. We are used to being judged. We are used to having our reputations upheld, as though our worth depended on the opinion of others, and by others, I mean mostly by cisgender, heterosexual men in power.
And yet this woman simply …arrived. She stood behind Jesus and her tears fell upon his feet.
These weren’t “I’m such a horrible person–forgive me!” tears.
These were tears of gratitude for being seen and acknowledged for who she really was– someone who wanted to show her love for Jesus. Not only did she show her love, she experienced the acceptance of her love by Jesus.
She used her hair to dry her tears from his feet, then kissed them and anointed them with oil—out of love for this man who saw her as a person whose worth was sacred simply because she existed. She was a child of God.
As I write this, we are waiting for a Supreme Court decision that will potentially take away the agency and consent of people who become pregnant to decide whether or not to bear children. The General Synod of the UCC has affirmed and reaffirmed the moral agency of people and the right to choose since the 1960’s. Even as we see a constitutional right on the brink of being removed, we are also experiencing a renewed and strong attack on comprehensive sexuality education, which research has shown reduces the incidents of unintended pregnancy, as well as reducing the incidents of STIs in sexually active youth and young adults.
In addition, General Synod has affirmed and reaffirmed the rights of our LGBTQ siblings—who now are watching their rights be slashed in public-facing and life-threatening ways.
Our faith communities cannot be loud enough about the right for our young people to have the information and community they need to make healthy decisions about their bodies and relationships.
Now, more than ever, Our Whole Lives is needed. The best place for conversations about reproductive justice, consent, worthiness and decision-making is in community—in our faith communities with trained and trusted adults holding space, answering questions, listening, and providing accurate information to our children, youth, and families.
You can find our online and in-person training options here: https://www.ucc.org/what-we-do/justice-local-church-ministries/justice/health-and-wholeness-advocacy-ministries/sexuality-and-our-faith/justice_sexuality-education_training-schedule/. We need to be willing to gather our precious resources and poor them out, anointing our beloved community with love and respect. What are you waiting for?