The Gospels don’t offer the slightest pretext to identify the sinful/adulterous woman with Mary Magdalene (for the Luke’s text click here). The identification of Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman was made Jacobus de Voragine in his Legenda Aurea. Luke (ch. 8:2) just says that Mary Magdalene was possessed by “seven evil spirits”, before the Lord healed her.
Mary Magdalene who later became Santa Maria Maddalena, was once a sinner, an adulteress, a lustful. This is the ‘explosive mix’ between the beauty and sensuality of the female (or male) body that is redeemed and sanctified that fascinates men and women of all times. Of course this is a late interpretation that have no biblical roots, but nonetheless it illustrates a deep religious experience: the perennial conflict between sexual desire and moral prohibition, between the holy/holiness and (sexual) sin/sinful.
This text belongs to the genre of legend, not because it’s about something that’s never happened. The central issue isn’t the historicity of the fact, but instead the singularity of the situation, the uniqueness of the person of which Luke speaks. An anonymous singularity (the text doesn’t provide the name of the sinful) that requires the reader to identify with the situation of the woman. The text only says that she was a sinner. How a woman should feel if she is identified as a sinner and not with her name? She is just a sinner, a prostitute. It is difficult to not hear a inner voice. The voice that condemns at day what you enjoy at night!
It is this kind of people, condemning and finger pointing, that the ‘sinful woman’ meets when he gets close to Jesus. In fact, Jesus is with them! The only hope of finding a different benchmark from condemnation, made of welcome and pure love, goes out inexorably. Jesus is also like them! The woman approaches “from behind”, i.e. fearful of the judgments avalanche that, even if not expressed, rushes against his heart already broken and full of cracks. However Jesus is not opposed to women’s gestures. Why? A man like him, a prophet, would rather stay away from women like her. What we shall say if a priest in the rectory of a church welcomes and entertains with warmth and affection with a lesbian, or an homosexual?
If Jesus hadn’t responded gently to Simon (8:39), the woman would leave more distraught and depressed than before. She had it all wrong again, maybe for the last time and that there isn’t in the world a man who loves her for what she is. There isn’t a man who considers her ‘good’, ‘acceptable’. Jesus doesn’t act in this way. Certainly, Jesus is in another difficult situation, between two fires, between two voices: the condemnation and the sin (which still fascinates every man, including the Pharisees). However, he doesn’t run away from this difficult and awkward situation. He begins to talk to Simon.
Both the parable (vv. 41-42) and the talk with the Pharisees (vv. 43 ff.) illustrate the equation: more there is love more there is forgiveness and vice versa. It seems that Jesus says “If you loves little you aren’t a sinner … “. I want to formulate better this thought. The more you know yourself, the more you recognize yourself as fragile and in need of everything, the more you feel welcomed by God, the less you are afraid to make mistakes … the less you know yourself, the less you recognize fragile and in need of everything, the less you feel welcomed by God, the more you are afraid to make mistakes. In this case you will believe that you are loved by God on the basis of your observance of external laws.
The faith that saves the woman is the confidence that she has been able to put in Jesus, overcoming once and for all the anguish that would have stopped her in to show herself fragile and beggar. The woman also had confidence in herself, in the inner search that led her to find within herself the hidden strength to get out of the desperate condition in which she lived and to go by the only person who could love her.