Luke 7:36 – 8:3
There are good manners that we practice when we receive guests; we greet them as they enter the house of event, offer to take their coats, ask if they would like to freshen up, and are attentive to any particular needs they might have. It was no different in Jesus’ time. The host would welcome the guest, have their feet washed, and be attentive to any other needs. In this Gospel Luke tells us that Jesus accepted the invitation to eat at the house of a Pharisee. No mention is made of the Pharisee welcoming him, nor did the Pharisee wash the feet of Jesus. It seems that this was a deliberate display of not welcoming Jesus properly. Maybe this Pharisee was one who was plotting against Jesus, and while he went through the nicety of inviting Jesus, he wasn’t going out of his way to welcome him. Jesus is reclining at table being carefully observed and judged by his host and the other guests.
Into this dinner walks a woman who is a known sinner. In silence she comes to Jesus, anoints his feet, washes them with her tears, and dries them with her hair. This could be the result of seeing in Jesus someone who understood and loved her, even in her sinfulness. The Pharisees and those gathered are indignant that Jesus would allow such a woman to come near him, let alone touch him. Jesus responds to their judgmental thoughts by pointing out their shortcomings in not properly receiving him, and how it is this woman, who they despise, who not only performed the customary welcome rituals, but went beyond that by expressing great humility and sorrow. Jesus tells her that her sins are forgiven.
This Gospel gives us two important points to reflect on: do not judge others, and do not let anything stand in the way of God’s forgiveness. We can be very quick to judge others. We do this initially by appearance. We set up our own standard of how a “good” and “decent” person looks, and when someone doesn’t meet that standard we make the judgment that they are beneath us, and we don’t want to be around them. This is just judgement on appearances, what of the judgements we tend to make because of rumors, gossip, and even facts of poor decisions and bad situations a person has been through? Do we act as the leaders of Jesus’ time and look down on them and write them off? Or are we like Jesus, and look on them with love and mercy? Judging others is something that can be difficult to follow the example and teachings of Jesus in, but we must try our best to avoid judgment and to be welcoming to others.
The second point is that in our own sinfulness we are the one who feels judged, whether by ourselves, others or the Lord. The depths of our sins can cause us to withdraw within ourselves with such a strong sense of guilt that we think we are unworthy of forgiveness. We lack the openness to receive the love and forgiveness of Jesus. The woman in the Gospel had that openness, and was not afraid to humble herself and come with sorrow into the presence of Jesus. She is an example to us to not be afraid of coming to Jesus with our sins. He is generous in giving us mercy, and desires to guide us as we continue to experience various conversions in our lives that lead us closer to him.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.