Outlook - Looking at the past through the eyes of forgiveness

Musings in CMi and the Bible is a 12-part series on each of the 12 Dimensions of Culture of the Cultural Mapping Inventory (CMi). You can find the overview article here.

The Outlook Dimension of the CMi looks at how a culture looks at the future. As you look towards the future, do you ‘stand’ in the past or in the present/future? Are you innovation-oriented, focused on plans and ideas as a measurement for success in the future, or are you tradition-oriented, focusing on past achievements as a measurement for success (and status)?

In the Bible, we see examples of both and in this musing, we’ll be looking at a Bible story where both views clash, the story of the sinful woman anointing Jesus’ feet. It also has a healthy dose of Community Accountability mixed in.

All four gospels contain the story of Jesus being anointed by a woman while reclining for a meal. The ones in Matthew, Mark and John take place just before Jesus’ crucifixion and point to the same event, where Mary the sister of Lazarus is anointing Jesus’ feet while He was a guest at Simon the (former) Leper’s house. The one Luke recorded points to a different event that happened earlier in Jesus’ ministry, where a (formerly) sinful woman anointed Jesus’ feet while He was a “guest of honor” at Simon the Pharisee’s house. (See Luke 7:36-50, now is a good time to read it.)

A good commentary on this passage with lots of cultural insights can be found in, Kenneth E. Baily’s “Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes”, Chapter 18.

There are four players in this story, Jesus, Simon the Pharisee, the sinful woman and the other guests which probably included some or all of Jesus’ disciples.

Simon is a Pharisee and a man of means and status in his community. He invited Jesus to his house for dinner. He probably had multiple reasons for doing so and one of them would be to “check Jesus out”, to test Him. As a man of means and status, he also felt obliged by his community to show hospitality to this visiting rabbi, and he does so begrudgingly. At that time, showing hospitality was not an option but a sacred duty in the Middle East and it still is. Jesus was an outside guest but certainly not treated as the guest of honor. Simon neglects to show Jesus proper respect as a guest, no foot washing, no anointing Jesus’ head with oil, no customary kiss on the cheek, etc. If Jesus would relay this to his followers or the crowds, this would put the whole community in a bad light. 

Simon's Outlook vs. Jesus' Outlook

It goes untold that the woman and Simon are from the same community and live in the same town. The woman had a sinful past and it looks like a previous encounter with Jesus made her turn her life around and receive forgiveness.

Simon still struggled with that change; he looked at her through the lens of her past and despised Jesus for allowing her to touch Him. His Outlook was Tradition-oriented and he judged her according to her past reputation, rather than seeing the present and opportunities for the future. (Luke 7:39)

Jesus on the other hand, looked at her with a Future/Innovation-oriented Outlook, as he considered her past forgiven and saw her as a new, clean, person with a bright future ahead of her, a member of God’s Kingdom. 

He tells them a mini-parable to show Simon (and the others) the biggest difference between Simon and the formerly sinful woman - their level of gratitude. (Luke 7:40-47)

As a Pharisee, Simon tried to walk the straight path meticulously (though failed miserably) and felt God had to forgive him for only a few sins. Hence, he showed little gratitude to Jesus as God’s messenger and Messiah.

The woman knew that her sins were many and these many sins had just been forgiven. This had set her free from the burden of the past and allowed her to look forward. But her actions towards Jesus were not just actions of gratitude. She was also making sure that Jesus, a visiting rabbi, was given a proper welcome by her and Simon’s town. Something that Simon had failed to do. 

Simon considered the womean as ‘not part of his community’. The forgiven woman knew she and Simon were part of the same community and as Simon failed to show proper hospitality, someone of the community had to step in.

What will our Outlook be?

This Bible Story does have a lesson for all of us, regardless of our preference on the Outlook Dimension. If someone changes and turns their life around, should I keep judging them by their past, or should I look at their past through the eyes of forgiveness and restore them?


Published September 4, 2023 

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