Dealing With Narcissists – Jesus, Simon, and the Woman

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While Jesus often taught about how to respond to life situations from a “Heavenly perspective”, He also frequently demonstrated it.  One example that is relevant to our study on how to deal with narcissists is when Jesus was invited to dinner by the Pharisee, Simon.

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Luke 7:36-50

36 Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume,38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.

39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”

40 And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?”43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 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 wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

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We saw here and here and here that the Pharisees were narcissists.  And here is a comprehensive look at the narcissistic traits and tactics of the Pharisees.

The best explanation of the dynamics of the above is found in the book “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures:  Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials“, on pages 98-102………

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“…….This is precisely what happened to Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee. He too was invited to a meal, but was not shown the proper regard expected from a host. We will reflect separately on the story’s three main figures: the woman, Simon the Pharisee and Jesus. We know from the biblical text that the woman had a bad reputation; she was publicly known as a sinner (Lk 7: 37, 39, 47). She apparently came to Simon’s house with the intention of anointing Jesus with ointment. She did not come prepared to wash his feet. We can deduce other things with reasonable confidence. She probably was a prostitute who had been marginalized and shamed in her village— especially by the highly religious like the Pharisees.  Jesus speaks of her having her sins forgiven before this event (Lk   7: 41-43, 47), implying she had already had a significant encounter with Jesus. We can imagine that Jesus showered her with love and acceptance and that like a thirsty plant she soaked it up. Apparently in the midst of that encounter they spoke of her sins and Jesus pronounced forgiveness.

“This experience contrasted radically with the shame and exclusion she experienced from others. Jesus’ forgiveness so moved her that she desired to express her gratitude to Jesus. Hearing that Simon the Pharisee was hosting a dinner and Jesus was an invited guest, she went to the house, prepared to honor Jesus with ointment. She arrived either before or simultaneously with Jesus (Lk   7: 45). What did she see?

“Simon insulted and disrespected the person (Jesus) she had come to honor when he did not offer Jesus customary gestures of hospitality. Shocked, and probably with a mix of anger and sadness, the woman took steps to show Jesus the honor and hospitality that Simon had not offered. Jesus explained 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” (Lk 7: 44-46).

“We do not know why Simon invited Jesus to this meal. Was it, from the beginning, a plan to insult Jesus for his own social gain in the community? (On other occasions the religious leaders attempted to challenge Jesus’ growing fame.) Or had the invitation been sincere but Simon had a change of perspective when Jesus actually arrived? What was his motivation? As a Pharisee Simon not only carefully complied with the law and the traditions of the Jews but also worked to motivate others to do the same. As we observe in his actions toward both Jesus and the woman, Simon sought to honor those who complied and to shame those who did not. He threatened exclusion to pressure people to live according to the Pharisees’ definition of piety.

“In that time and culture it was acceptable for people who were not invited guests to gather around the edges of the room and observe the event. Hosts desired this. They accrued honor through others’ participating in this way. More people meant more honor.  So it was not unusual that an uninvited guest would enter the house. But for a woman known as a sinner to enter his house was certainly unusual. Her presence itself would likely have been cause for gossiping the next day, but it is her actions that especially would have caught people’s attention. She made a scene not only by weeping and washing Jesus’ feet with her tears, but in particular by loosening her hair to dry Jesus feet— an intimate act only done in the presence of one’s husband. Everyone present, not just Simon, would have been surprised that Jesus let this sinful woman continue these scandalous actions.

“Simon demonstrated an attitude of superiority, and used threats of shame and exclusion as tools for motivating behavioral conformity and religious compliance. Jesus practiced the opposite— a strategy of inclusion, love and forgiveness. This is obvious in the case of the woman, but also apparent in relation to Simon.

“Rather than dishonoring Simon by refusing the invitation, Jesus went to his house. And when Simon dishonored him, Jesus did not immediately move into a competitive stance, such as exiting the house or exposing Simon’s mistreatment of him. Jesus’ conversation with Simon redefined the meaning of true honor on multiple fronts. We could identify Jesus’ interaction with Simon as a public game of challenge and riposte— a common occurrence in an honor-shame context. But Jesus did more than tussle with Simon over a limited quantity of honor.

“First, Jesus’ challenge is motivated by love— love for the woman, but also love for Simon. Until Simon steps away from his life of exclusionary line-drawing, he will not truly be living in authentic communion with God or others in his community. In a twist of irony, his social rules actually isolate and distance him from other people, and God.  Moreover, Jesus’ public actions forced the spectators to consider the question, who does God consider shameful and exclude? The entire incident challenged the distorted honor system of the day.

“Most prominently, Jesus confronts Simon in order to defend the women from further shaming. When the woman began her surprising and then scandalous actions, Jesus had various options. If he was most concerned about his own reputation and honor, he could have rejected her actions— kicking her away and insulting her. Or he could have apologized for her actions.

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“But Jesus did not act to save his own honor. At cost to his own reputation he accepted and defended her. Jesus’ public declaration demonstrated concern not just for her individual experience of pardon and acceptance but also her restoration in the community. Jesus’ forgiveness removed the barrier of sin that excluded her from the community. Divine forgiveness releases people from the social bondage of shame and carries profound social overtones. 13 He counters the shame she had experienced by honoring her and giving her a new identity. With his final words he honors her publicly, placing the emphasis on her faith, not on his actions: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

“……..Before Jesus spoke up in her defense, all the eyes in the room would have been glued on the woman — shaming eyes of accusation. When Jesus began to speak he became the scandal, and the eyes of accusation would have shifted to him. He takes on the shame in her place. Because of Jesus’ surprising defense, the woman would have left feeling even more loved, more accepted and more graced than before. Jesus’ actions were a “costly demonstration of unexpected love.” 14 Jesus loved her so much he was willing to suffer shame to save her from being shamed. This story is a precursor of the costly demonstration of unexpected love at the cross. This incident marks a common pattern in Jesus’ ministry of honoring the shamed via public association.

“……. Tax collectors, prostitutes, adulterers and sinners were all shamed for violating cultural norms. They were moral lepers outside of the covenant community. By talking and eating with them, Jesus erased their social taboo and presented a live portrait of participation in the new messianic community. Jesus’ “radically inclusive and non-hierarchical table fellowship was a central strategy in his announcement and redefinition of the inbreaking rule of God. In so doing, Jesus challenged the inherent exclusivism and status consciousness of accepted social and religious custom and presented a living parable of a renewed Israel…….”

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