There are certain passages in the Gospels that are really hard for me to understand. I like this passage from Luke 7: it features the devotion and gratitude of a woman redeemed, but I must say that for a long time now, I just don’t get the hair thing.
It’s not a hang up or anything (or maybe it is), but I just can’t get around it being her hair. In 1 Cor 11, Paul calls a woman’s hair her crowning glory. In these stories of Jesus’ feet being anointed with oil or tears and wiped with a woman’s hair is bemusing to me — what are they really to mean?
In the other Gospels the incident occurs just before the Passion — actually as a part of the Passion narrative and has overtones of a priestly action. I like that — a woman anointing as a priest would the feet of Jesus. The focus is on the sacrifice of Jesus and the humility of the woman.
In Luke, however, the focus is much more on the woman’s “sinner’s” nature — and her gratitude to Jesus for her redemption and forgiveness.
But I still end up thinking about the hair. There is a sensuality that is undeniable here and an extravagant outpouring of love. I know how my hair will catch scent: I wonder how long she was haunted by that odor? Of course that points out another difference between Luke’s account and the other Gospels — in this account there is an emphasis on the tears of the woman. Is that significant? Should we view them as completely different stories? First because this story in Luke occurs in the middle of Jesus’ ministry and the others nearer to the Passion narrative; second because in Luke there is mention of tears and then the oil or ointment or perfume.
This wiping with the hair — it’s disturbing. It’s totally out of character for a first century Jewish woman to let her hair down in public and then it has definite erotic overtones. It’s so intimate. What is it with the hair??
But it is an extravagance of love being poured out. And maybe a form of complete dedication — as is pointed out in the Galatians text “and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Perhaps these passages are about complete devotion.
What are you thinking about this Tuesday morning?