Tears for absolution
Many times we have listened to the episode of today’s Roman Rite Gospel that tells of an event at first glance peculiar: into the house of a good man enters a not such a good woman who washes Christ’s feet with a very expensive ointment. Christ accepts this act of humble and pure love that puzzles the orthodox men who are present.
Let’s image the action.
The woman with a heart quivering but full of gratitude dares to enter into a banquet reserved for men who are considered righteous because they observe God’s law, but that have forgot its heart. She is uninvited because she is a woman and moreover a sinful woman (the Gospel doesn’t reveal her name).
She challenges their stares and looks at Christ because she wants to openly show her gratitude. Jesus is the only one who loves her with truth and removes her from the condition and the shame of being a prostitute. The Messiah knows that the woman is not a sinner any more. This woman has understood that there is love greater than carnal pleasure and poverty richer than gold and perfumes.
She is aware of belonging to God and shows it without words.
She speaks with what she does to Christ’s feet.
The woman’s tears show repentance for her sins. Her heart has changed. Her entire life has changed and now her hands are pure and can touch the Son of God with humility and holiness. The woman is so grateful to Christ that she wants to thank him in public. In front of everybody she thanks the One who has resurrected her heart, cleaned her soul removing her from public shame.
The ointment that she pours on Christ’s feet shows how important He is for her. Let’s not forget that Judas for his treason received 30 dinars that were later used to buy a field for the burial of the pilgrims in Jerusalem. This anonymous woman “wastes” an ointment that costs 300 dinars for an act of repentance trigged by Love. Beside the cost of the ointment the woman deprives herself of an “instrument” of her “job” used to make herself more charming.
It is as she had already known what Jesus will tell her:” Your sins are forgiven…go in peace…. Your faith has saved you”. She invests on Him or, using a less commercial language, we can say that she abandons herself to Him and washes the feet that have brought Him to her and to all humanity and that have given hope to her and to all the ones that want to rise and to leave back every false hope.
In front of such a big faith and such a daring love, the incarnated Love who has dirty feet because of the walk done to take the good and joyful news of truth and love, must forgive.
The Carrier of peace must spread himself into the heart of the one who believes in love. Jesus doesn’t do anything else that authenticates the repentance of the woman and her desire of redemption, purification and holiness.
This woman has truly understood who Jesus Christ is: the Saint of God whose holiness sanctifies her and the entire world, the true good Man who with his pardon makes good the entire humanity.
May the Virgin Mary, mother of the Salvation, the most humble among all women, help us to grow in love for her Son. If we cannot imitate Mary in her purity, let’s imitate her in her humility, charity, justice and holiness. Let us pray so that our thoughts are not like the ones of Simon who welcomes Jesus “physically” but not “spiritually” because his heart if full of unjust and careless judgment.
A conflicting statement
Before proclaiming publicly his pardon for the woman, Jesus speaks to Simon with a parable on the meaning of love and forgiveness to help him to get out from the legalistic observance of the law and to be able to understand what is truly important: love for God and love for neighbor, true relation with the others for the salvation of all.
He tells him the parable of the two borrowers (today’s Gospel in the Roman Rite) then he finishes with a statement that seems conflicting:” You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little”.
One question comes to our mind:” A lot is forgiven to the one who loves a lot or does the one to whom a lot is forgiven love a lot?” What comes first, love or forgiveness?
I don’t want to enter into abstract cogitations; I would like only to underline that Jesus shows an intimate dependence between forgiveness caused by grateful love and love caused by forgiveness.
As a priest that for more than 40 years has been celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation, I try to be an open window over the forgiving love of God and to make sure that the penitent leaves the confessional with a heart full of gratitude and the desire to give thanks not to the priest but to God.
Through Confession every one of us can feel the look and the words that have brightened the woman’s soul who, dead as she was, is revived by her tears and God’s forgiveness. Now she deserves that her name is revealed: Mary (love by God) Magdalene (whose meaning meant that she came from the town of Magda but also that from now on means penitent and missionary of mercy). The fact that the woman is Mary Magdalene is debated from the exegetical point of view but a century old tradition affirms it. This Mary is a woman of pure heart who after that day followed Jesus Mercy to carry the announcement of God’s forgiveness to the world.
Let’s entrust ourselves to the merciful love of God with the humility and the gratitude of the Magdalene. Jesus doesn’t look to the sins in the woman who washes his feet but to her love and to her gratitude. She thanks Him giving all entire self to him in offering to Christ a vase full of precious ointment as a sign of her grateful love.
Also the consecrated Virgins give their body to Christ as a spiritual Vase. With their consecration they affirm to be spiritual persons whose citizenship is heaven (Phil 3:20) and live daily live as a unique testimony of God’s compassion whose love we cannot deserve. It is He in his mercy that gives it to us.
To be witnesses of the divine mercy requires to maintain the same pure and open heart of the Virgin Mary and the same purified heart of Mary Magdalene and to pray constantly and to intercede for the people who ask us to pray for them. That is the particular task of consecrated Virgins: see the preliminary of the Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins, N°2, literal translation from the Latin text: “To fulfill the service of prayer, consecrated Virgins are strongly recommended to celebrate the Divine Office each day, especially Lauds and Vespers. Thereby, by associating their voices during the Communion to the voice of Christ, Sovereign Priest, and to the voice of Church, they will praise without interruption the Father of Heaven and will intercede for the salvation of the worldwide.”
To be witnesses of Mercy means to follow these two Marys at the foot of the Cross, to look at Him with pure eyes and to announce to all humanity that Christ is Mercy. We all, conquered by the paternal and merciful loyalty of God and by fraternal forgiveness (see today’s Gospel of the Ambrosian Rite) will be able to sing:” How precious is your mercy, o God! The children of Adam take refuge in the shadow of your wings. For with you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light. “ (Ps 36:8-9)
Small exegetical comment:
Jesus announces God as a Father who loves all his children, good or bad. He doesn’t send away sinners but looks for them. The contrast between Jesus and the Pharisee is not only moral but theological: it concerns the concept of God. The Pharisee is not aware to be a sinner; the woman on the contrary is aware of her sins and grateful toward the one who forgives her. The Pharisee is not. He believes he is right by himself. This is the second reason that makes him blind. These are to conflicting points of view. What to do? Jesus could have stood up and said: “You’ll be sorry, blind Pharisee…” He doesn’t do that. He tries to make the Pharisee understand in telling him a parable. A rich man forgave the debts of two of his borrowers. One owned him a lot, the other little. Which one of the two borrowers will be the most grateful? The Pharisee answers immediately: the one who had the bigger debt. Just so, says Jesus. The woman has been forgiven and saved; she had a big debt that has been removed. For her the encounter with Jesus has been liberation, unexpected forgiveness and a found dignity. This is why she has a lot of attention towards Him. On the contrary the Pharisee, closed in his righteousness doesn’t feel any gratitude toward Jesus. Only the one who knows that he should be forgiven and freely loved (and experiments it), seizes the true sense of Jesus’s visit.
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year C- June 16th, 2013
2nd SM 12:7-10.13; Ps 32; Gal 2:16.19-21; Lk 7:36-8:3
Forgiveness’ request to God.
Fourth Sunday of Pentecost
Gen: 4:1-16; Ps 49; Heb: 11:1-6; Mt 5:21-24
* * *
Monsignor Francesco Follo is permanent observer of the Holy See to UNESCO, Paris.