Sometimes I fail to see the image of God in people around me. I am not conscious of the breath of our Creator simmering in my neighbour’s belly and only recently have I come to realise how much of a shame this really is. The story of the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50 comes to mind.
A friend suggested to me that what spoils this story for us is that we know the ending. We know that Jesus corrects Simon by addressing his failure to welcome his guests properly with water for their feet, oil for their head and a kiss on the cheek. We know that Jesus forgives the woman’s sins and gives her his peace. And maybe we do consider the scandal of this scene, as we remember that she is a prostitute and Jesus is the Son of God. Perhaps what we miss is the tension between this picture of alleged seduction and the unfolding redemption of God’s image in her.
Simon’s words sting, as all he sees is a sex worker kissing and caressing Jesus’ feet: “If this man was who I thought, then he was he would know what kind of woman is falling all over him.”
I don’t believe that Jesus was as concerned with this woman’s past as he was with Simon’s present. The presence of God’s image never wavered in either person, but as this interaction unfolded it was being awakened from inside the woman and she began to actively express it through her reverence and worship.
For four months I have lived in one of the most notorious red light communities in South Asia and have interned at a bag and T-shirt factory that is in the business of offering freedom to women. It’s not always easy to see God’s image in this district. Not unlike the woman who encountered Jesus, my neighbours are battered and broken. Their identities have been trampled while their voices have been stolen. In fact, Simon’s ancient comment is a mild equivalent to our current society’s attitude toward the women of this neighbourhood.
I was able to observe what freedom meant for 180 of my sisters as our business celebrated its tenth birthday three months ago. Saris draped brows as ladies prayed for the areas that they originally came from. Heads bowed and silence fell as we were invited to place a piece of chain at the foot of the cross to thank God for our freedom, seek how best we can live it out and pray that our freedom may permeate the areas surrounding our community.
Maybe not all the women understood the significance of such actions – that as they came to the feet of Jesus, the image and breath that lay dormant within them could be awakened, and what was awakened could then be expressed. I pray one day they will.
Our lives are raw and this doesn’t depend on our geographic position, social status or socio-economic privileges. It’s understood when we recognise the significance of a human life and our direct ability to impact it with God’s Kingdom.
Life is raw because we all are branded with the image of our maker and to see that image lie dormant is an epic sadness.
• Elizabeth Pawson