Our first reading today offers personal advice for the conduct of Timothy’s ministry. The author first tells Timothy not to let anyone have contempt for his youth. It is hard to see how Timothy could prevent this. He can try to be an example for other believers in speech, behavior, love, faith, and purity, giving them, reason to respect and imitate these qualities in him. But if youth is a problem for them, these qualities may not change that.
Our gospel story from Luke recounts Jesus, a dinner guest at the home of a Pharisee named Simon, reclining at table. A sinful woman comes to the house and bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries his feet with her hair, and anoints them. The Pharisee says to himself that if Jesus were a prophet, he would know that the woman touching him is a sinner. Later on we learn that Jesus does know the woman is a sinner and thus that Jesus is, in fact, a prophet.
Jesus contrasts the behavior of the woman with that of his host. Simon has failed to do all of the things for Jesus that the woman is doing. Jesus explains the woman’s behavior as a response to having been forgiven much; one who has been forgiven much loves much. Simon’s behavior seems to show he has not been forgiven much – and consequently he does not love greatly.
It appears to me that the Gospel is contrasting two attitudes of mind and heart:
1. Simon was conscious of no need and therefore felt no love, and so received no forgiveness. Simon’s impression of himself was that he was a good man in the sight of men and God.
2. The other attitude is the woman. The woman was conscious of nothing else that an urgent need, and therefore was overwhelmed with love for him who could supply it, and so received forgiveness.
The one thing that shuts a man off from God is self-sufficiency. The strange thing is that the better a man is the more he feels his sin.
Barclay comments on this section: “It is true to say that the greatest of sins is to be conscious of no sin; but a sense of need will open the door to the forgiveness of God, because God is love, and love’s greatest glory is to be needed.