Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Read the whole passage)
In January of 2015, a young woman was sexually assaulted on Stanford University’s campus following a campus party. A young man named Brock turner was caught in the act by two passersby and later convicted in the assault. Last week, the victim impact statement written by the anonymous woman was released to the public. Over the past number of days, the 7000 word letter has been trending online, and making headlines on TV and Radio news and in newspapers. Celebrities and pundits have commented on the case. US Vice-President Joe Biden even wrote an open letter to the young woman at the heart of this case.
Brock Tuner was sentenced to a shockingly lenient 6 months, of a possible 14 years because the Judge believed any longer would have had a “negative impact” on the young man. Turner’s swimming career and affluent background with no prior convictions were cited as reasons for the lenient sentence.
You may have read the statement from the young woman who was Brock Turner’s victim. You may have heard the commentary or read about the story. You may have discussed it with family and friends, or maybe you just heard about it for the first time now. But almost certainly, you would not have expected to read this story in church today…
This week, Jesus meets Brock Turner and the anonymous Stanford Rape victim. They go by different names, Simon the Pharisee and the woman who was a sinner, but make no mistake, this morning our gospel lesson is telling the same story that the world has been telling all week.
Jesus is invited by Simon the Pharisee for dinner. Simon is a well-to-do Pharisee, a religious authority, a moral authority, one who occupies position and privilege in his world. Someone that proper people would have considered righteous, a stand-up guy, some one who should be given the benefit of the doubt. Someone who gets a name in the story.
Just as Jesus, Simon and the other guests are about to sit down for dinner, a woman enters the scene. The woman only descriptor the woman gets is “sinner.” She doesn’t get a name, or position, she is only known for her “sins.”
And as if to emphasize the point, when Simon objects to this sinful woman’s presence, Jesus tells a story about two debtors, and how the one who is forgiven more would love more. It almost seems like Jesus is saying this poor sinful woman is to be pitied.
Can you see Brock Turner in Simon? The privileged man with power who doesn’t even see a person in the woman.
Can you see the anonymous woman who is a victim of her world in the woman who washes Jesus’ feet? The woman who is assumed to be a sinner first and foremost.
In case it isn’t clear, the assumptions built into this story are the same as the ones so many have made about the Stanford Rape case.
Simon is assumed to be righteous, because we tend to think that people of his kind, powerful, respected, well-to-do people, are righteous. Brock Turner is assumed to be a good kid because he is a college athlete, he comes from an affluent family, he is a white guy going to a prestigious university. If he is accused of doing something wrong, it must not be that bad.
But more importantly, the woman who washes Jesus feet is assumed to be a sinner, but not just any kind of sinner. While the text doesn’t actually say, we assume that this is a prostitute. A promiscuous woman. She is assumed to be a prostitute because she is a woman, because there is no husband with her, because she is doing something intimate with Jesus’ feet. If she is a sinner, it must be the worst kind of sinner can think of.
And young woman who was assaulted? Every detail of her sins were laid out in court. Her clothing choices, how much she drank, what kind of relationship she had with her boyfriend, whether she actually wanted what Brock Turner did to her. Because she was sexually assaulted, we feel the need to question the ‘assaulted’ part.
Our assumptions about Simon and this woman who washes Jesus’ feet, about Brock Turner and the young woman he assaulted… our assumptions show our bias. How we can easily assume someone is righteous without any real evidence. How we can easily assume someone is a sinner just because of their gender or social standing.
And in case we still don’t see our assumptions about who is righteous and who isn’t, who should be given the benefit of the doubt and who shouldn’t, Jesus makes sure we get it.
Lest Simon think that he is the one with few sins to be forgiven, Jesus reminds Simon that just in that moment Simon has failed to show hospitality according to the law. He has failed to wash the feet of his guest, he has failed to offer a kiss of peace, he has failed anoint his guest with oil. The “sinful” woman has done all these things. The sinner has kept the law.
And then Jesus turns to the woman and says, “Your sins are forgiven”
But not forgiveness in the sense that her wrongdoing have been forgiven. Because Jesus knows that this woman is victim too. A victim of her society that sees women as property to be owned and casually discarded if perceived to be broken. This woman is a victim of a world where an unowned woman’s life choices included begging or prostitution.
Forgiveness in the sense that the sins that have been heaped on her do not define her. Forgiveness in the sense that the judgment and scorn of the well-to-do and powerful don’t get to determine her value.Forgiveness in the sense that her righteousness isn’t decided by the standards of her unjust world.
Forgiveness in the sense of freedom and release.
A seminary professor of mine once said to us,
“The gospel is always contextual. You wouldn’t tell a rape victim that she is forgiven of her sins”
But after reading statement of the young woman whom Brock Turner was convicted of assaulting, after reading about the shame, self-doubt, the regret and suffering, after reading about the trauma and re-traumatization, after reading of helplessness and injustice she endured…
Perhaps forgiveness is exactly what is needed.
Release and freedom from the sins that have been dumped on her. Release from the shame and judgment of the powerful. Forgiveness of any need on her part to demonstrate her victimization or righteousness or need for justice.
Forgiveness and freedom.
Forgiveness and freedom found in The One who has been victim and accused sinner before us.
Forgiveness and freedom found in The One who does not live by assumptions about our goodness, worthiness or sinfulness.
Forgiveness and freedom shown by The One who determines our righteousness solely in love.
Forgiveness and freedom found in Christ.
The reality is that our world is full of Simons and Brock Turners, those whose power and privilege protect them from seeing their un-righteousness. Our world is full of anonymous, unnamed people looking for freedman and release from the shame, judgment and sin of the world. The reality is that we are both Simon and the woman who washed Jesus feet, we are both Brock Turner and the young woman who was his assault victim.
We are people who assume our righteousness, our goodness, or worth is based in our power, achievements, wealth and status. We are people who assume our sinfulness is based on our gender, race, language, religion, orientation.
But most importantly, we are people for whom God chooses to discard all that. We are people loved and freed by Jesus. We are people that God chooses to forgive.
God chooses to forgive us and free us from our sin, to free us from all the ways the we try to define ourselves, to free us from the burden of trying to be righteous on our own, free from the shame and judgement heaped on us by the world.
God chooses to forgive and free us. Period.
4 thoughts on “The Stanford Rape Victim, Jesus and Forgiveness”
While I agree somewhat with some aspects of your comparison of Simon to Brock, I think you are stretching to far with the other character. Brock has stood accused in the public court, and many (most?) think he was given exceptional leniency. But are we not also called to forgive him? That, in my opinion, is a much harder forgiveness to muster.
Like Simon, has Brock actually asked to be forgiven? I would hope for freedom and release from Brock’s actions on the victim’s life… I would hope that that she could release him from her judgement so that she doesn’t waste her life and energy resenting him. But are we called to forgive those who don’t actually want forgiveness?
I think we are, if for no other reason than that God is concerned with the condition of our own souls. I am reminded of Christ’s prayer before he expired on the cross.
I must add that I agree that the sentence was far too lenient. It sends the wrong message and could embolden other rapists and would-be-rapists.