Jesus doesn’t condemn people for their sins because everyone has flaws. Only God is perfect, and while we strive to imitate God (and sometimes even succeed) we remain flawed, temporal beings. The secret to peace and joy is not getting too upset about it, not punishing ourselves or others for not being perfect, while, obviously, trying to refrain from letting our flaws harm other people. We need to maintain a certain balance. As T.S. Eliot wrote at the end of “Ash Wednesday”: “Teach us to care and not to care,/Teach us to stand still.”
This is what Jesus’ forgiveness is. Jesus restores balance in the woman who weeps and wipes his feet with her hair. So why does Simon the Pharisee take offense at it? Adyashanti explains it well:
The open heart is compassionate because it maintains an essential connection. But as soon as we separate ourselves from another – as soon as we say, “No, there’s nothing in you that corresponds with something in me” as soon as we forget that you and I essentially share the same spiritual essence – then we cut ourselves off, and we go into blame. Forgiveness comes from that deep intuition of our sameness, of our shared humanity. That perception starts to lower the walls of defense, and being judgmental is ultimately a defensive game, a way of staying, “I am not like you.” To forgive is really a way of saying, “I see something in you that’s the same as in me.” Then, even though you may be upset, even though the other person may have caused you pain or harm, when you connect with your shared humanity, there’s forgiveness.
Simon’s response to the woman is essentially defensive. He wants to separate himself from this woman so that he doesn’t have to consider his own flawed nature. And Jesus doesn’t let him off the hook. The parable he tells is about two people who both have flaws, and both get healed.
The proper response to forgiveness, as to so much else, is gratitude. And gratitude is so precious and joyful that God wants us to generate more and more of it. It is, after all, the thing that will keep us in equilibrium, despite our flaws. Whenever we start to focus too much on our sins, and feel the heat of past embarrassments rush to our cheeks, and become paranoid that other people are judging us for all of our foolishness, the best way to stop this spiraling sense of our own flaws is to start naming the things we’re grateful for. I often think of my wife, and am amazed that this person, whom I’ve loved for twenty-five years, and who knows all of my manifold flaws and failures, loves me anyway, with a deep, enduring love. That’s the love that Jesus is offering to the weeping woman, and for the rest of her life she will be able to look back on his forgiveness and use it as a wellspring of gratitude. That’s the true power of forgiveness.