Wherefore I say to thee: Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less (Luke 7:47).
Jesus speaks here to the pharisee Simon who had invited Our Lord to a supper in his house. The eyes of the guests are fixed upon a certain woman, no doubt Mary Magdalene, who has boldly entered the pharisee’s house, uninvited, and, by her tears, opened her heart to her Savior as she knelt behind Him at His feet. The scene occupies fourteen verses of Saint Luke’s Gospel.
There is a most important lesson to be learned here. Therefore, the chivalrous Saint Luke, whose Gospel often highlights holy women (Our Lady preeminently), relates this event that only he, among the other evangelists, records. A Lapide, citing a certain commentator (only identified as Titus), notes that this notorious woman was “a friend” of Simon’s. That would explain the fact that no one prevented her entry.
Somehow Mary Magdalene heard that Jesus was invited to eat at Simon’s house. She had already been won by His grace and adored Him at a distance. Ashamed of her past sins she dared not reverence Christ in her own house (the house of her brother Lazarus) but here in another’s house, that of her friend Simon. There were certain things she wished to do in order to demonstrate her love and these things were better done in someone else’s house so as not to arouse any suspicions.
Saint Augustine writes: “The sinner who washed the feet of the Lord with her tears, and dried them with the hairs of her head, when she knew that the heavenly physician had come, entered the house an uninvited guest; and thus she, who had been shameless in sin, became yet more bold in seeking salvation, and so deserved to hear that her sins were forgiven” (Hom. 58 de Temp.). And again, “Thou hast seen how a woman of notoriously evil repute entered, uninvited, the house where her Physician sat at meat, and although little fitted for a feast, was fitted for the blessing which she thus boldly (piâ impudentiâ) sought to obtain. For she knew how great was her need, and that He to whom she had come, could grant her relief. For Christ accepted the invitation of the Pharisee, in order to provide those who sat at meat with the spiritual feast of the repentant Magdalene.” (Hom. 23)
And, Saint John Chrysostom: “Christ sat at the feast, not to drink cups of wine flavoured with honey and perfumed with flowers, but the bitter tears of repentance; because God longs for the tears of the sinner” (Serm. 93).
Although in Saint Matthew’s Gospel a similar event is recorded, it is not the same. This latter anointing took place in Bethany in the house of a healed leper, also named Simon, and this other woman who also anointed Him there — His head not His feet — is not called a sinner.
And [she] stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
She stood. Standing indicates not necessarily the posture, but the presence of any one. To wipe His feet she had to be kneeling. Indeed to kneel is fitting for a penitent. She speaks by her actions.
Saint Chrysostom observes that Mary Magdalene was the first woman who came to Jesus for pardon and forgiveness. Those before her had sought restoration to bodily health alone. Therefore, he says, “wounded like a deer, she, wounded by the dart of Christ’s love, runs to Him for succour. Christ had showed her her wretchedness; hence, overcome with sorrow and remorse, she could not bear for one moment longer the burden of her sins, but at once sought of Him pardon and release. Therefore, without waiting until Christ had left the Pharisee’s house, she burst in uninvited to the feast” (Hom. 11, on S. Matt.). She whom He had delivered from seven devils, as we are told earlier in Luke and again in Saint Matthew, would deliver her also from the bondage of sin. “Therefore,” a Lapide says, “in deepest contrition she draws nigh to Christ, acknowledging Him to he a prophet sent from God with power to forgive sins, and in full hope that He would pardon the guilt which she had contracted; for, S. Gregory says, Christ drew her to Himself by inward grace, and received her outwardly with pity and compassion.”
And did wipe them with the hairs of her head.
Hereby she dedicated to the service of Christ the very hair which once she took such pride in adorning. Saint Gregory notes,“That which she had given up to the service of sin, now she offers for the glory of God. Her eyes, which had lusted after earthly things, she wears away with the tears of repentance. Her hair, which once added to the comeliness of her face, she now used to dry up her tears. With her mouth, which was wont to speak proudly, she now kisses the ground on which the feet of the Lord trod. All her sinful indulgences she sacrifices for the love of Christ, and making her former vices give place to virtues, wherewith she offended therewith she now serves God” (Hom. 33).
But what is this “love” of our penitent which is the cause of her being forgiven much?
Hear a Lapide’s answer:
“The meaning is, as he who has been forgiven much, is accounted to have received forgiveness because of his deserts, so debtors who owe much, are wont to show the utmost deference to their creditors, in order to obtain from them, if not forgiveness of their debt, at least favourable terms of payment. In like manner, Simon, thou shouldest have known that the Magdalene loved me with a greater love than thine. For she showed greater proofs of her love, and therefore her sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much. Wherefore, she is no longer a sinner, nor, as thou thinkest, unworthy to touch my feet; but holier than thou, and more worthy to be touched by me. The parable, therefore, plainly teaches us, that the more we love, the more we shall be forgiven.”
So, too, Saint Augustine, “The more she loved Me, and shows her love, the more do I forgive.” (Hom. 23)
“Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.” The word “for” or “because” shows that her love was not the effect but the cause of her forgiveness.
Christ had come as a guest to the house of Simon. Simon, therefore, although he loved Christ enough to invite Him to his home to eat, he should have washed His feet as a good Jew, if not doing the service himself, then having a servant do so. Jesus, therefore reproached him for his want of consideration, and contrasts his conduct with the love of the Magdalene. A Lapide cites Titus, “It is an easy matter to provide water, but difficult to supply such an abundance of tears.”
I would note here that even though one could conclude that Simon the Pharisee was the one “forgiven less” in the parable Our Lord used here, that is not necessarily so. The lesson stands in regard to the parable of the creditor and the debtor. It is only natural that the more debt one is forgiven the more grateful is the debtor. But Simon, who certainly did love less than Magdalene, may have had greater sins than Magdalene. Like the pharisee who justified himself for not being like “that publican” standing behind him striking his breast; after all, he said proudly to himself “I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:12). Simon, too, may have so inwardly boasted. Be that as it may, Simon certainly “loved less” no matter how much he had been forgiven.
That may have been quite a lot if, as Titus noted, this notorious woman had access to the pharisee’s house. Does he not seem a bit too familiar regarding “what manner of woman this is who toucheth” his guest.
Go in peace. Thy faith hath made thee safe.
A Lapide cites Saint Euthemius’ consoling words, which can be said to us all as well as to Mary Magdalene: “Be no longer downcast and distressed by reason of thy sins: they have now no power to hurt thee, nor to make thy conscience afraid.”
“He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast”( Prov. 15:15).
Lastly, Saint Bernard, Go in Peace:
“The joy which a perfect heart looks for from an untroubled conscience is a lasting happiness. For the heart which is cleansed from this world’s corruptions, and whose desires are fixed on God, joys only in the Lord, and rejoices only in God its Saviour. The soul of such an one despises the threats of the enemy, casts away fear, is not a prey to false hopes, but, secure against all evil, rests in perfect peace.”