Today, unfortunately, we are now witnessing disturbing confrontations between extremes, left and right. Even before these times, we have seen it all too often. On the news, a group of “Baptist Christians” are holding hell-fire-and-damnation poster signs at the funeral of some soldier or other “sinner” who died. Then, we turn around and see a mainline Protestant community remove their crosses and other Christian art so as not to “offend” non-Christians and then proceed to hold a Muslim prayer service lead by a lesbian “bishop.” What in the world is going on with these aberrations? Well, it turns out, if we know the Gospels well, that this is nothing really new, at least in principle. More specifically, the Gospels reveal to us that in Jesus’ time, they had the Pharisees and the Sadducees, like the conservative and liberal Protestants of today, respectively. Considering this parallel, we could ask, what if Scripture not merely reports on the extremes of Jesus’ day but also reveals the mystery of these pesky poles that never seem to leave, that would even continue into the New Covenant? Well, it just so happens that, at a bare minimum, the contrasting scenes of the contrite, worshipping woman with the alabaster jar of ointment anointing Jesus are a spitting image of such theology if ever there was one. Curious? Come inside for a wonderful ride.
To start, because our forthcoming analysis will be in-depth, let us identify the scenes we are talking about. Basically, there are two primary instances of the woman seeking forgiveness through a lavish anointing of the Christ: one where Simon the Pharisee is the primary host, and who complains, and the other with Simon the Leper as the primary host where the disciples and/or Judas do the complaining. Since the texts will be heavily analyzed, we will include the full text here:
The Scene of Simon, the Pharisee:
And one of the Pharisees desired him to eat with him. And he went into the house of the Pharisee, and sat down to meat. And behold a woman that was in the city, a sinner, when she knew that he sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment; And standing behind at his feet, she began to wash his feet, with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. And the Pharisee, who had invited him, seeing it, spoke within himself, saying: This man, if he were a prophet, would know surely who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner. And Jesus answering, said to him: Simon, I have somewhat to say to thee. But he said: Master, say it.
A certain creditor had two debtors, the one who owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And whereas they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which therefore of the two loveth him most? Simon answering, said: I suppose that he to whom he forgave most. And he said to him: Thou hast judged rightly. And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon: Dost thou see this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she with tears hath washed my feet, and with her hairs hath wiped them. Thou gavest me no kiss; but she, since she came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but she with ointment hath anointed my feet. Wherefore I say to thee: Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less. And he said to her: Thy sins are forgiven thee. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves: Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman: Thy faith hath made thee safe, go in peace.
The Scene of Simon, the Leper, and Some Disciples and Judas:
And when Jesus was in Bethania, in the house of Simon the leper, There came to him a woman having an alabaster box of precious ointment, and poured it on his head as he was at table. And the disciples seeing it, had indignation, saying: To what purpose is this waste? For this might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. And Jesus knowing it, said to them: Why do you trouble this woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.
For the poor you have always with you: but me you have not always. For she in pouring this ointment upon my body, hath done it for my burial. Amen I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which she hath done, shall be told for a memory of her. Then went one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, to the chief priests, And said to them: What will you give me, and I will deliver him unto you? But they appointed him thirty pieces of silver.
To begin, it seems quite predictable that the Pharisee symbolizes the right, and the Disciples and Judas symbolize the left. Toward that end, let us ask, why is there a left and a right? Well, lo and behold, that there are these two extremes has everything to do with the fact that there are two faculties of soul: intellect and will, or the head and the heart.
Now, how do the two faculties relate to the two extremes? The answer lies in the characteristic of rigidity, that is, the question of whether your head should be hard or soft and whether your heart should be hard or soft.
It turns out that to be truly balanced, like the Catholic Church herself, we need a contrast: one faculty hard and the other soft. More specifically, in that same Catholic faith, we are called to have a head that is firm, but a heart that is soft. After all, this is nature of Jesus and His true religion. The Church is very dogmatic, like conservative heretical sects. It definitely cares what is true in terms of doctrine and morals, and it calls out what is sinful. It is not soft-headed! However, it applies its difficult truths with compassion and love, not forcefully or angrily. It also performs the works of earthly charity. Therefore, its heart is soft.
The extremes arise when both faculties are either hard or soft at the same time.
Hence, the right is hard on both faculties: hard headed, which is good, but also hard hearted, which is bad. The left, by contrast, is the opposite--both soft: soft hearted, which is good, but soft headed, which is bad.
Now, let us return to our Scripture texts. For the scene of the disciples and Judas, emphasis is on mainly corporal works of mercy: the heart and charity [this expensive jar could have been sold for the poor]. In the other scene, that is, of the Pharisee, emphasis is on knowledge, sin, and the judgement thereof [He should know who and what kind of woman this is, and that she is a sinner]. In light of this contrast, we will argue that the scenes convey theologies that are diametrically opposed: everything we see in one is not in the other, and vice versa, so that the left and the right are fully realized between the two. Yet, also, we will note that neither is fully bad. Each scene has some good and some bad, like the theological left and right. After all, the Church has a hard head, like the right, and a soft heart, like the left. We will digress on these soon. For now, let us examine the scenes in greater depth and in comparison, and then move on to see how the realities become fulfilled in the modern left and right heretics. For the record, let us establish that since the Pharisees and Sadducees represented, more or less, poles in antiquity, we will henceforth, for ease of reference, refer to the Christian Right as the Pharisaical Heretics and the Christian Left as the Sadducaical Heretics. It follows that, per the explanation we already gave, the Sadducaical Christians reject more or less all things of the Pharisaical sects and hold to the opposite conditions, and vice versa.
The Pharisee Scene and the Pharisaical Heretics
Let us delineate several key components of the Pharisee scene, as well as other Gospel renderings of the Pharisaical type:
Other-worldly works of Mercy:
In this scene, the woman is anointing the feet of Christ, as opposed to the head in the Sadducaical scene. In rejecting the anointing in general, we can argue that the Pharisee also rejects, allegorically, the specificity of the feet and what they stand for. What should the feet represent? Well, we have the contrast of head and feet. Common sense suggests using the self-evident analogy: The head, at the top of the upper part of the body, can be seen as the upper dimension of the Church, her other-worldly concerns—or spiritual—whereas the feet, the bottom of the lower part of the body, can image the lower dimension of the Church, her this-worldly concerns—or the corporal. In other words, the head can image the level of the spiritual works of mercy, and the feet can image the level of the corporal works of mercy.
Hence, when the Pharisee rejects the anointing of the feet, the ground, this world; he is expressing an aversion to the corporal works of mercy. Hence, as the Christ has said, the Pharisees impose huge burdens on the lowly but will not lift a finger to help them. Is this not what happens in hard evangelical sects? They tend to manifest cold-hearted fiscal conservativism, anti-immigration sentiments, a health-and-wealth-Gospel mentality, hyper-nationalism, and a judging heart towards the poor and downtrodden: you pathetic derelict, why don’t you repent and stop drinking, and you would get out of this mess. If only you would accept Jesus, you wouldn’t be homeless. Consider also the evangelical pregnancy centers that try to blackmail the girls into converting before giving them help, seeming to have concern for the child’s rights, but not so much for the poor girls.
Similarly, because the corporal works of mercy are downplayed, the right tends to be almost completely obsessed with the spiritual works of mercy: saving people from Hell and evangelizing: the mind, doctrine, and sin;
Judgement of what type of woman she is;
This clearly conveys bigotry, judgment, and knowledge. On bigotry, already the Pharisees betray a superficial, self-righteous disposition simply because they are “children of Abraham”. In fact, we recall how St John the Baptist issued a scathing proto-Gospel on the universal resolve to save all men by rebuking them, saying, “For God could raise up children of Abraham from these stones!” The Pharisees consider themselves superior to Gentiles and “sinners,” as well as to the suffering, disabled and marginalized. “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like this sinner.”
Similarly, in modern hard evangelical sects, if they get firm enough, they return to the old Protestant disposition that unless you belong to their specific sect, you are perishing. We are the Second Council, Nebraska Synod, Apostolic Free Will Baptist Evangelical Church. If you don’ fully agree with us, you will fry. See those persons over there? Those are Catholics. They are going to hell. Also, all Muslims and Mormons will fry, unless they repent. They are not of us! Admittedly, too, some hard evangelicals can even embrace literal racism, as in white supremacism of some parts of the South, hence indicating the harsh exclusivity that is found in severe Pharisaical Sects.
Judgement of her sin:
The church actually does judge sin; it calls out moral activities that are gravely wrong. but…
Judgement of who the woman is and her unworthiness to mercy:
Here, the Pharisee oversteps terrible bounds. First, he is not merely judging the sin of the woman, but the woman herself. Secondly, he is even implying that she is, as of yet, not worthy of forgiveness. This is where Christ’s temperament would save the Pharisee: yes, we are to call out objective sinful activity when it is prudent to do so, but we never judge person’s hearts. We do not know where they have been and what is transpiring in their mind or hearts. Are there wounds, pain, scandal, desperation? “Do not judge lest you be judged.” Any person who contritely approaches a person they have wounded, or especially Our Lord, should most certainly be admitted to loving mercy and compassion. The very reality of the beautiful and loving sacraments of penance and anointing testify that there is always mercy for the contrite, for the repentant.
A similar example: some Calvinist sects take the so-called unforgivable sins of Scripture literally, and so even tell some poor souls that they are unforgivable, hence, having no possibility of mercy, like the Pharisee seems to reject that the woman is worthy of mercy. Other times, through similar judgement, they tell persons they are not elect, so that mercy is not possible for them.
Culpability of sin is hyperbolized, “hyper-Original Sin”:
Clearly, the Pharisee exhibits a pathological fixation with the sin of others. This would also surely imply the precursor to a hyper-Original Sin, as it were, where just about everyone is depraved, except the Pharisaical elite.
Suffering: “Was it this man’s sin or his parents?”:
Here, the definitive opposite pole of the Sadducaical scene enters in: in the other account, complaint is made about helping the poor, which would seem to imply any other marginalized and suffering classes in society. (Too, that scene has Simon the Leper, not Simon the Pharisee) That would imply that the Sadducaical ones that complain will have great partiality toward all suffering and rejected ones. Hence, the Pharisee’s cold-hearted judgement of the lepers, blind and others only speaks to their hardened heart to the corporal works of mercy. “Was it this person’s sin, or his parents?” Suffering is for sinners, but the elect prosper. For the Pharisee, life is not complicated: if you are good, you will be blessed materialistically, but if you are bad, bad things happen, hence, the judgement of the downtrodden and suffering.
The Pharisee says that Christ should “know” the type of woman she is, who she is, and so forth. Too, the Pharisee praises himself for his spotless knowledge of the Law, every last jot and tittle. He is also a literalist, and so can get caught up in questions of religious nature that no longer matter. (“Whose wife will she be?”). The Pharisaical heretics are likewise: they are constantly in search of the true Biblical doctrines, which they confound ad infinitum. They are literalistic. They endlessly debate apocalypse scenarios about WWIII geo-national permutations and literal times and dates; they embrace literal creationism, serpent handling, over-obsession with charismatic gifts and healings, and on and on.
The Sadducaical Heretics then reject more or less all things of the Pharisaical sects and hold to the opposite conditions.
This-worldly works of Mercy:
In this Sadducaical scene, the woman is anointing the head of Christ, unlike the Pharisee scene, where she anoints the feet. When we recall that the head and feet could be seen as the upper and lower dimensions of the Church’s life, that is, the spiritual and corporal, and remembering also that the Pharisees rejecting of the anointing of the feet could hence image his self-same rejection of the corporal dimension of religion, it is easy to see the corroborating analogy here, so that the disciples and Judas, complaining about the anointing of the head, are rejecting the contrasting spiritual dimension. This actually fits. Liberal sects of Christianity largely reject the otherworldly elements, downplaying knowledge and sin. They are soft-headed, lackadaisical about doctrine and mystery. They have a limited view of mystery and truth (“Just be kind, caring, sharing, peaceful, tolerant, and loving”), just as the actual Sadducees of Jesus’ day did not believe in the resurrection from the dead. In other words, the Sadduccees and their counterpart heretics of today mainly focus on this-worldly works of mercy “could have been sold and given the poor.”
Inclusivity: If it is true that Pharisaical heretics are hyper-exclusive, then we can easily see that because the Sadduciacal heretics have a partiality toward the downtrodden, the misfits, the suffering, the poor, who are different, or set apart, they will be hyper-inclusive: They recognize the suffering and their need for help, but at the expense of all other faith. Opposite extreme of bigotry: reckless invitation to all, judge no actions, as in the liberal Protestant fixation with vague, effeminate theology that asserts virtually nothing, but invites all to participate. Put another way, all are welcome, since especially those who are different and suffering matter. This divulges even to those who commit serious deviancies. Everyone is worthy of mercy, even the unrepentant. You do not presume you are elect, because everyone is elect.
Knowing is not that important, just being compassionate. So if it is true that Pharisee considers knowing a form of superiority, so that those who do not know everything will perish, Sadducaical heretics believe that virtually all will be saved, regardless of beliefs.
The sin of the woman is irrelevant, not even on the radar in this scene. Hence, this likely means that, as opposed to the hyper-Original Sin of the Pharisee, we have hyper-Anti-Original Sin, or the near total dismissal of sin and its culpability. Hence, not only don’t judge the sinner, but neither the sin: Virtually no one is very culpable at all. We must just care for the unfortunate; don’t worry about sin and all that. Even hyper-subjectivity enters in: If it is true that the Pharisee considers little of the subjective conditions that can diminish a person’s culpability, so the Sadduccaical heretic sees virtually no objectivity and only subjectivity, meaning, even if objective grave sin is present, subjective conditions almost always diminish or eliminate culpability. (eg, same sex desires justify same sex activity; the woman’s dire plight justifies abortion; the suffering of the dying justified euthanasia).
Compassion on the suffering:
The Sadduccaical community does have compassion on the suffering, which is good, but it goes too far. In other words, just as the Pharisee is devoid of compassion, placing heavy burdens on the weak while not lifting a finger to help them, so the Sadduccaical community has such compassion and soft heartedness that it is willing and able to cross serious moral boundaries to eliminate crosses. Hence, we reiterate: even if objective grave sin is present, subjective conditions almost always diminish or eliminate culpability, so that if doing the right thing in the midst of difficulty will require great sacrifice, the Sadduccaical heretical will say, let us alleviate your cross, even if we violate serious moral law, eg. same sex activity, abortion, euthanasia.
If it is true that both Pharisees and modern Pharisees resort to an over-simplistic literalism that many times misses the point of Scripture, so the Sadducce of new takes the opposite extreme: not only do we not take the Bible literally everywhere, but we swing to the other side: completely explain it all away as just fictitious lessons, even abrogating the essential orthodox history and Divine Interventions necessary for God’s Plan.
Where does the Church stand? It's Balance
The Church stands between the heretics, much like Christ’s primary torso is firmly stationed between the extremities of His Crucified hands. It has a hard head but a soft heart:
Works of Mercy:
The Church has a head and a heart: knowledge is important. Compassion and love are important. Spiritual works of mercy and corporal works of mercy are important. The whole person is to be loved. Part of evangelization is helping the person in their temporal needs to show them a foretaste of their priceless dignity and worthiness of love. But the Church doesn’t stop there. She then gives them good news of the Gospel.
God does desire us to know Him, His mysteries, and His truths. To know, to understand, to be understood. Church has an elaborate set of dogmas and doctrines, countless volumes, CCC, thousands of paragraphs, and so forth. But persons who lack some truth through innocent ignorance can be saved despite their deficiencies, if they pursue God with a pure heart, ever desiring of what wisdom they can find given their resources and life circumstances, time and place. But, to the degree that persons lack truth, or, worse, have errors, their chances of salvation are diminished by the very same degree as they error and lacking of truth. Too, society is affected. Hence, evangelization is vital for humanity. It is an imperative from God to His Church.
Like the Pharisee, the Church actually does, unfortunately, categorize “types of people”. There are the faithful, schismatics, heretics, infidels (both supernaturally inclined [Islamics] and supernaturally dead [deists, rationalists]), pagans, Jews, atheists…and so forth. So this could be construed as “bigotry”. This is not the same, however, as the bigotry of the Pharisee. The Pharisee would effectively diminish the dignity of other groups of people, and judge them as unworthy of salvation, or incapable of such if they remain. The Church, on the other hand, again, recognizes persons in these groups that can be either innocent or fully culpable, eg, formal vs material heretics, Jews, and so forth. That is, a formal heretic, in fact, if they are public, is headed toward damnation and has a seeming malice. Here, the Church must even judge the person publically, not just their category, and excommunicate them. This, then, makes the Church share in a certain exclusivity. Indeed, “Outside the Church there is no salvation” carries both dimensions of Sadducee and Pharisee. Those who die culpably outside the Church, that is, knowing it was founded as the sole means of salvation to humanity, yet fully with culpable malice and neglect, fails to enter, perishes--the objectivity. But those who sincerely seek the Divine and are not to blamed for separation, can be saved--the Subjective.
All men, regardless of race, tongue, place, or culture, are welcome and even desired by God into the Church. But there are conditions: faith and repentance: faith in all She teaches; and repentance, acceptance of all moral teaching and willingness to try one’s best henceforward to live the teachings. This is like Pharisee, but in love, not judgement. Flexibility of one’s cultures and elements of life are fine so long as they do not conflict with the Gospel. Conservative protestant sects tend to have aversion to pagan cultures, and may seek to eradicate all elements and impose their own local set of culture. “You were pagans, you didn’t know anything, so let us destroy and replace your culture, instead of transform it.”
Church judges sin but not the sinner. The Church has an elaborate teaching on moral theology, endless volumes. It teaches very firmly on the imperatives of the Ten Commandments and their full implications. So objectivity, like the Pharisee, is there. But, the Church also recognizes subjective criteria for actions, like the Sadducee, and these can never be known fully. Only God and the person committing the act know that completely. Subjective circumstances can diminish culpability then (or increase it).
Church is in middle; like Sadducee, Original Sin affirms that first, man is basically good. In general, he can have natural goodness. He is not utterly depraved and utterly culpable necessarily if unjustified. But, like the Pharisees, we affirm a very real and serious tendency of man to selfishness and ignorance without grace and revelation. If man is left in the condition of Original Sin, the results spell eventual doom of humanity.
So Church is BOTH objective and subjective.
In a subsequent article, we will examine mystical, sacramental alleogry and symbolism, in the numbers here, the 300 and 30, and the 500 and 50, to show they divulge to liberal and conservative Protestantism [300, 500], and then ultimate liberalism and conservatvism, communism and nationalistic fascism [30, 50]. Stay tuned!