The woman who anointed the feet of Jesus

Thanks to Frank Sonnek for introducing me to this sonnet about the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50.  It’s by the son of the great Romantic poet Samuel T. Coleridge!  (Just as the great hymnwriter Christopher Wordsworth was the nephew of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth.  Both Romantic poets, who together penned the revolutionary Lyrical Ballads, would become conservative Christians.)   The title of this poem is Latin for “she loved much,” since, as Jesus said, “he is forgiven little, loves little,” and vice versa.  This makes a fine meditation for Holy Week.  (If you know of others, give a link in the comments.)

“Multum Dilexit”
Hartley Coleridge (1796–1849)
SHE sat and wept beside His feet; the weight
Of sin oppress’d her heart; for all the blame,
And the poor malice of the worldly shame,
To her was past, extinct, and out of date:
Only the sin remain’d,—the leprous state; 5
She would be melted by the heat of love,
By fires far fiercer than are blown to prove
And purge the silver are adulterate.
She sat and wept, and with her untress’d hair
Still wip’d the feet she was so bless’d to touch; 10
And He wip’d off the soiling of despair
From her sweet soul, because she lov’d so much.
I am a sinner, full of doubts and fears:
Make me a humble thing of love and tears.
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  • Thank you for sharing this wonderful poem and for the names of these Christian poets. I just unpacked a box of poetry books this morning, Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats. There are some contemporary Lutheran poets / hymn writers like especially Stephen Starke who use their God-given gifts to tell our faith story in beautiful and memorable language.

  • Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem.

  • Amen, and amen. I have to wonder if we might do well to dig this kind of thing up more often–let’s show the world what the Church has to offer, and at the same time show the Church what we’ve enjoyed and ought to enjoy. It seems to demonstrate to me that good poetry is born of knowing…..good poetry, no?

  • Abby

    I read and re-read the story of the woman of Luke 7 quite often. Especially when I get overwhelmed with self-condemnation. Any and all sin can weigh as heavy as this womans’ sin. Martin Luther called her tears, “heartwater.” Four things I see — sin, repentance, gratitude, and the courage to come to Jesus.

    “Whenever a sinner comes to him, he becomes his Savior. Whenever he meets a sick soul, he acts as his Physician. . . . If you go to him, you will find him at home and on the look-out for you. He will be more glad to receive you than you will be to be received. . . . I tell you again that he cannot reject you. That would be to alter his whole character and un-Christ himself. To spurn a coming sinner would un-Jesus him and make him to be somebody else and not himself any longer. ‘He cannot deny himself.’ Go and try him; go and try him.”

    I have a good friend who’s college-age grandson announced he was gay. She is a very active lifelong Lutheran. But now is saying condemning things against the church because she fears the Christian rejection for this in her family. I told her that Billy Graham was once asked what he would do if he found out that someone in his family was discovered to be gay. He said, “I would love them all the more.” She said she would leave the church rather than give up loving her grandson.

    I find it interesting in this article by a lesbian, that she does not want the church to compromise either Law or Gospel in any way. But that the church should proclaim what is true according to God’s Word.

    “To those of you who would change the church to accept the gay community and its lifestyle: you give us no hope at all. To those of us who know God’s word and will not dilute it to fit our desires, we ask you to read John’s letter to the church in Pergamum. “I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore!” You are willing to compromise the word of God to be politically correct. We are not deceived. If we accept your willingness to compromise, then we must also compromise. We must therefore accept your lying, your adultery, your lust, your idolatry, your addictions, YOUR sins. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

    We do not ask for your acceptance of our sins any more than we accept yours. We simply ask for the same support, love, guidance, and most of all hope that is given to the rest of your congregation. We are your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not what we shall be, but thank God, we are not what we were. Let us work together to see that we all arrive safely home.”

    “All of life is repentance.” (Martin Luther) It is about the heart. Is the heart soft and repentant? Or hard to commit ongoing sin with no repentance? If it is soft, and you go to Him, Jesus can’t reject you — that would be “unJesus” of Him.

    “And He wip’d off the soiling of despair” I love that.

  • Not usually a poem person, but that is very beautiful.

  • Beautiful poem! Thank you for sharing this to us. Jesus forgives as long as you confess that you have sinned, ask for forgiveness, believe and have faith in Him.

  • I have been checking out some of your posts and i must say clever stuff. I will definitely bookmark your blog.

  • KatieB

    I homeschool–we’re looking at poetry to study this month. I received Wordsworth’s “The Prelude” in my email with a lesson plan today. Is this a good poem worth studying? What was Wordsworth’s worldview? What does this poem teach us? I know nothing about poetry and I cannot find anything from a Christian perspective on Wordsworth, much less a Lutheran perspective!