In today’s Gospel we see two persons with contrasting attitudes towards Jesus. We have the repentant woman acting in great contrast to Simon the Pharisee who did not bother to welcome Jesus as a host ought to in the Jewish culture. First, while Simon did not give Jesus the kiss of peace as a mark of respect for a distinguished prophet, the woman on the other hand kissed Jesus’ feet. Second, we see that Simon did not even wash the feet of Jesus when He entered his home. This is customarily done because of the dusty streets and most people only wore sandals. In contrast, the woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears of sorrow and wiped them with her hair. Third, while Simon did not burn some sweet smelling incense or anoint Jesus’ head with oil, the woman anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment. In short, in this Gospel scene, we see Simon treating Jesus shabbily and without any respect for his guest, who was a distinguish prophet, while the repentant woman sinner showered Jesus with great love.
To reflect on the truth of this story more fully, let us look at the case of the story of Tom, who at an early age of 15 left school and joined up with friends who were involved in gang fights and extortions. One day, Tom was arrested and put in prison for three years for seriously wounding someone in a gang fight. When Tom was finally released, he was very embarrassed and even fearful of returning home. However, when he arrived home, he shocked to find that his mother had put up a sign in his room, “Welcome back son, we love you.”
Tom’s further shock was when his family and friends welcomed him warmly instead of treating him with scorn and rejecting him for letting them down and tarnishing the family’s reputation. In the weeks that followed, Tom began to reflect on his life and all his past experiences flooded his mind. In all that he did, Tom began to realise that they were all empty experiences that masked his inner hurts and pain that he did not dare admit and refused to face. Tom began to realise more clearly that he had been wasting away and risking his life foolishly. From that day onwards, Tom began to realise that he had to face the truth of himself and get on in life regardless of how painful this healing process may be. Tom resolved to live a more wholesome life; he met Maura who had many friends.
Maura’s friends were so different from the company he used to keep. They laughed, they talked and had such wholesome gatherings together. None of them hesitated to talk lovingly about their involvement in the Church and about the God in their lives. Soon, Tom began to feel at ease with Maura’s friends; all of them treated him with great respect and love even though they knew of his past life. They accepted him as one of them.
Some months later, Tom found himself praying, “Lord, I want to have the peace and joy that I see in Maura and her friends. What shall I do? Suddenly deep within him, he felt God telling him “Tom, give me your heart.” Then take it Lord,” Tom said without hesitation. From that day onwards, Tom was a changed man; his life was totally transformed. He found the deep peace and meaning in life that he had longed since he was a child, but have only now found it, when he firmly and decisively dared to surrender his heart to the Lord. Growth was gradual and painful, but Tom was no longer the same; he was a changed man.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we want to experience the deep peace and meaning of life of Tom and the forgiving love of Christ, then we too like Tom must firmly and decisively “give our heart to Jesus.” We have to note that in today’s Gospel is that the woman showed great love for Jesus because she had first received forgiveness for her many sins. And before she can receive the gift of forgiveness, she too must have “surrendered her heart to God in Jesus.”
Many of us do not experience the fullness of God’s Love in our hearts and life not so much because God does not want to give us His Love. It is more because like Simon the Pharisee, and as in the early years of Tom’s rough life, we do not seem to feel we need God enough in our lives; we seem to feel so self-sufficient in life that God seem to be an optional “extra” in our lives. When we need Him we go to Him; when we don’t need Him, He can wait in the sidelines of our lives.
For deep and lasting transformation to take place in our hearts and life, like the repentant sinner in today’s Gospel, and our repentant Tom, we have first to be aware of how much God has forgiven us of our sins in life and be deeply grateful to Him for His Mercy. Unless we are grateful to the Lord for His Mercy our hearts will never be open to His Mercy.
The woman’s actions did not “buy” her forgiveness from Jesus so to speak. All the repentant woman’s actions in the Gospel were expressions of her deep gratitude to Jesus’ Mercy of having forgiven her in the past probably during the time of John the Baptist or during one of Jesus’ public ministries.
Simon, the Pharisee on the other hand was not hospitable towards Jesus because he never really felt he needed Jesus and His forgiving love. Thus, he never also really felt much love for Jesus. We are each challenged today to reflect on whether we have in different ways adopted Simon’s attitude of self-sufficiency where we feel we have so much in life or so much to do in life that we can do without Jesus. When this happens, we begin to feel that God is not so important in our daily living because like Simon the Pharisee, we have given too much credit and importance to our selves.
However, our consolation is that regardless of what is happening in our lives, God is always there for us. Even as we may feel that we are living sinful lives or have moved far from God or are going a painful lonely phase of our lives, God’s Mercy is still there with us and within us.God is silently but surely still present in our lives. . . .this we must not forget . . . this was precisely what was happening throughout Tom’s struggles and pain in life . . .
We know that Tom’s “conversion” was largely also helped by his good mother’s, his family and friends’ compassionate love for him. All these people restored his dignity and accepted and loved him instead of judging and ostracizing him just because he had done wrong in his life. This too is how God loves and shows us His Mercy. We are each called also to be like Tom’s family and friends.
When the repentant woman encountered Jesus, she too must have surely experienced a non-judgmental acceptance of who she is by Jesus. Because Jesus was able to accept her fully and with dignity . . . she experienced deep conversion of heart in the forgiveness she received from Jesus. Recognising how blessed she is to be forgiven so unconditionally by Jesus, she responded with deep love for Jesus.
Likewise, Jesus too forgives you and me, each of us here, without exception daily. If we reflect on the quality of our daily living, “How much do we love God?” If we do not love Jesus enough, then today’s Gospel is challenging us to ask ourselves, “How aware and grateful are we of His infinite Mercy that He shows us daily?” If we are not grateful enough to God for His infinite Mercy, then our hearts would also not be open enough to love Him as much as we ought to daily
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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