By Laura Leavitt
The Gospel Doctrine lesson #10 focuses on some of Christ’s acts of mercy which expand the old, Mosaic Law to all people. The goal of the lesson from the manual is “to help class members understand that as we take the Savior’s yoke upon us and do his will, we will find the peace and joy that he has promised.”
To comment on Christ’s mercy and forgiveness paid to the “sinful woman” found in Luke 7:36-50. His teachings in this passage show us how approachable He is, offer instruction on how we should evaluate others, and tell us how to experience peace.
36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat.
37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,
38 And 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.
It’s important to note the tenderness and humility of this sinful woman. Rather than cowering away in guilt when hearing that Jesus is near, she arrives prepared to greet, honor, and serve him, equipped with her alabaster box. She boldly expresses her awe and gratitude to stand before the Savior by washing his feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair and kissing them even in front of the pharisee’s judgmental gaze. This powerful scene made such an impression on me as a kid that I remember wondering whether my hair was long enough to wipe Jesus’ feet.
39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
The unfortunate thing is that it’s easy to feel and act like Simon the Pharisee here. The lesson manual asks, “How would Simon’s attitude toward the woman have made her burden seem heavier? How might we sometimes make another person’s burden or sin seem heavier?”
I believe that the difference in social stature between the sinful woman and Simon is no coincidence. There are so many shame-bearing burdens that risk our reputations (maybe even particularly at church): divorce, misbehaving children, a misbehaving spouse, single-ness, weight gain, a messy home, struggles of faith, struggles with personal vices, etc, etc. That rotten list could go on forever. It’s important that we never compound others’ shame. It’s something I have to stay conscious of as I move throughout my life and find that my approach and opinions differ with those around me. Christ calls to all of us as he answers Simon and reaffirms his overwhelming love despite her weakness and lowly reputation:
41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
We learn to love Christ, when we rely on him. From a traditional LDS perspective, some things may look amiss in my life. I am a previously divorced woman, now a working mother, married to a very sweet man who lost his testimony a number of years ago. My 1 year old daughter hates nursery. But this history of life turning out so differently than I’d ever imagined is what continually teaches me to rely upon the Lord and love him. I’ve learned that the peace He grants comes from inner strength and perspective, and less from the outside circumstances that I’d once dreamed I was entitled to for righteous behavior. I feel loved by the Savior as I honor and serve Him through prayer and service. I also feel His love when others serve me. I am grateful for my life as it is, most especially when I see it through the perspective of that love.
In the next few verses, Christ chastises Simon the Pharisee for not treating Him with the same respect as the humble woman. (The lesson manual tells us that at the time it was customary to wash the feet of an honored guest.) He then turns to the woman and says, “Thy sins are forgiven…thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace.” I love the simplicity of this statement and command. He doesn’t tell her to go home and dwell on all of the ways that she should improve and worry about everything she might not be doing right. He’s saying, “We’re square, thanks to your faith and my mercy. Feel at peace.”
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Snapshot Portrait, Kristin Goodwin
I couldn’t ignore the answer I had been given. I knew my son’s feelings were more important than his behavior, and that I could only change what he felt from me and not how he acted. He wasn’t hitting because he didn’t understand it was wrong; he was already trying so incredibly hard not to be ‘bad’. I had been focused on being so absolutely consistent in my discipline, he just felt like there was no loophole, no mercy, that the more he hit the less he deserved love. When he lost control, he instantly knew he had done wrong and was already feeling guilt and self-loathing in his little heart. He was waiting for me to show whether or not I, his mother, thought more of him than that, instead of just a lecture and public shame.
I began to understand that his little heart was amazingly tender and open to love, that the knowledge that he was more important than his mistakes would work miracles. Setting aside anger and frustration and learning to replace it with love and affection right when someone seems least deserving is beyond hard. But it is possible, and powerful. I can testify of that.
An Unfinished Story, Kimberly White
The inspiring stories we tell in Church, they’re all true. There is no miracle the Lord can’t perform, He is full of mercy. But often, telling things in the form of stories leads to this idea that if you’re keeping the commandments and if you’re a good person, everything wraps itself up neatly. Life doesn’t have the structure of a story. It just keeps going on and on, like a movie where they keep making too many sequels.
When I went to the temple, I was taken totally by surprise. To be told that my sins were forgiven struck me so powerfully in my heart. Forgiven means forgiven. You don’t disqualify yourself. This is what life is for. Everybody messes up. I feel like I hadn’t understood what the Lord’s forgiveness meant until I was in the temple.
Daughter of a King, Marnie Spencer
We often look around and think we have all the trials, nobody else seems to have trials, and that’s just not true. We all may have different trials, but everybody has some, and I think we have what’s right for us. We have the trials we need to help us grow and to strengthen others. It’s easy to see it sometimes, but harder other times. I can remember after I found out that I had cancer the second time, doctors assured me I wouldn’t live long. Heavenly Father really helped me with a gift of clear sight at that point. I could see so clearly that in this life, what we think is hard is really not that hard. He sends us here, He tells us what to do, He helps us do it, and if we don’t do it, He allows us to repent and gives us another chance. It is a very merciful and loving plan of salvation. The plan of salvation is a plan of mercy, of happiness. It really is. We learn from our mistakes, we learn from our good choices, and we come out better most of the time.
Other Related Women’s Voices
Strength in the Savior, Chieko N. Okazaki
My dear sisters, our circumstances will not always be ideal, but we can still strive to live up to them. From the bottom of my heart and from more than fifty years of experience in the Church, I testify that the Savior extends to us all the same mercy, the same healing power, and the same perfect love. He has assured us that it is his work and glory to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life.
Ward and Branch Families: Part of Heavenly Father’s Plan for Us, Virgina H. Pearce
Heavenly Father expects us to participate in our wards. It is part of the plan. But, Sister Pearce, you may be saying, you have such an idealistic picture of a ward—that’s not like my ward!
You mean, your ward has real people in it—ones who are sometimes selfish or self-righteous, unskilled or undependable? I’m so glad! How could it be a real laboratory for practicing gospel principles like patience, long-suffering, charity, and forgiveness if there were no people or situations that would require the use of these principles? The miracle of it all is that we are real people put into an ingenious structure, designed by God, to help us become like him.