Over the last week I have been on a personal retreat at Conception Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in northern Missouri, while trying my best to get some serious work done on my thesis. My research, which is a socio-rhetorical study of opposing-turn questions in the Gospel of Luke, has given me the opportunity to work with the questions of Jesus on both a macro and micro level—while I am particularly focused on seven major questions, I have also been analyzing the rhetorical portrait of Jesus that emerges from the more than 106 total questions he asks in the gospel as a whole.
One of the most puzzling questions that I came across while studying Luke is from the story about the woman who anoints Jesus and washes his feet with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus has just finished having dinner with a Pharisee named Simon when an unnamed woman approaches him and begins to weep and pour oil over his feet. Responding to Simon’s shock, Jesus tells a parable about the love of two debtors whose debts have been canceled by their creditor, implying that the one with the greater debt would love the creditor more. Apparently he wishes to elaborate on the lesson a little further, because this happens next:
And turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? (Βλέπεις ταύτην τὴν γυναῖκα)”
There are a couple things that are interesting about this question. 1) Doesn’t it seem kind of odd that Jesus “turns to the woman” while speaking to Simon the Pharisee? and 2) What is the purpose of the question itself? It is certainly not information-seeking; Simon clearly sees the woman that is standing in the room with them. It might be rhetorical, but if so, what rhetorical purpose does it serve? It might simply serve to draw the attention of the Pharisee and the reader back to the woman, but it seems like an awfully brief break in the narrative to warrant that kind of device. Also, if this is the case, it seems to operate on a highly oral rhetoric as opposed to Luke’s typically literary rhetoric. “You see this…?” is not an uncommon phrase in casual conversation, but it feels out of place here in narrative form. I currently don’t have access to any commentaries except for my copy of Fitzmyer’s two Anchor Bible volumes on Luke, which don’t even acknowledge the question.
There is one reflection that I had about the contemporary application of the question in context—is it possible that the Pharisee didn’t in fact see the woman? Not in any physical sense (she obviously wasn’t invisible), but did Simon really see her? Or was he simply looking through her? Looking past all her regret, her need for forgiveness, and seeing only “what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner” (v.39)?
“Do you see this woman, Simon? Do you really see her?”