‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who this woman is that is touching him and what a bad name she has.’ (Luke 7:39)
Twice in today’s Gospel we are told that this woman ‘has a bad name’. It’s ironic really, because we don’t actually know who she was. Traditionally she is associated with St Mary Magdalen, but in fact that seems unlikely. Mary is mentioned just after this story - no indication that we are talking about the same person.
So we know her name is bad, we just don’t know what it is.
That is the thing, of course about reputation. A person has many different characteristics, yet it is just one that they may be remembered for. This woman was someone’s daughter, someone’s sister. She was probably someone’s mother and someone’s wife. She may have been loving and caring, generous and sensitive. She might have been a victim of cruelty or bound by poverty. Who knows? How can we know? - we only know that her name, her reputation, her status was bad, and the Pharisees were appalled at the encounter between her and Jesus.
Perhaps she had done wicked things. Perhaps she was dishonest or irresponsible. Or perhaps she was just different, unconventional or rebellious.
The trouble with reputation is that it reduces a person to a word, takes away the real name for the sake of the bad name, turns a human being in all the variety of her qualities to just one adjective, one negative, bad.
But this changes.
Her actions, her contrition, her penitence, and then God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, have this extraordinary effect that they restore her to her human dignity. They free her from the shackles of reputation, because of this great movement of love. Her loving worship is itself an act of healing.
By showing her love for Christ, she invites the greatest gift of love - the granting of forgiveness, and her wholeness is restored.
Her sins, her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love.