Sunday, 16 June 2013
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury
We just heard one of the most memorable accounts in the Gospels, one that has inspired many works of art.
The woman in the text is not named here, she is simply described as "a woman with a bad reputation in the town". Tradition identifies her as Mary Magdalene, a woman of loose living, who ‘knew’ many men, who had "loved much" to use what was quite possibly a deliberate play on words by our Lord.
But by the time we see her here in this Gospel text she has changed. She still has a "bad reputation", for such things change slowly. But her behaviour towards our Lord is not that of a loose woman, but of a woman who has come to love a man in a very different sense. And, this man is of course not just a man, He is the Lord God. She covered His feet with kisses and tears, wiped them with her hair, and anointed them with ointment.
This behaviour by the woman was seen as odd by the people present.
The Lord responded to their comments by pointing out not so much her behaviour as what motivated it, namely, her love. More specifically, He indicated what had led her to love Him: the fact that He had forgiven her sins, "her many sins".
She loved much because she delighted in the fact that she had been forgiven much. To know that you are forgiven is a very special way of knowing that you are loved, and such a knowledge of being loved is a POWERFUL motive for us to love in return. To love with such passion and exuberance that we don't care if we make fools of ourselves in front of others -as this woman might have been said to have done.
What of ourselves? If no one here is loving in the manner that the woman loved, what does that say of us?
It might say that we are just English, and that we keep our emotions tightly bottled up --heaven forbid that we should commit a social faux pas like that of this wild woman!
It might, however, say something more problematic. Maybe we have let our love for the good Lord grow cold. Maybe we have forgotten what He has forgiven in us. Maybe we have come to take Him for granted, and thus no longer love Him the way we once did.
Perhaps the most worrying possibility, however, is that our emotions are unmoved because we are like the man we just heard Jesus condemn, the Pharisee Simon: we love little because we have little realisation that we have been forgiven ourselves. Maybe it is not so much that our love has grown cold as that it never really reached much of a fervour to begin with.
Either way, this woman before us in this text should motivate us to want to fire up that love within ourselves. How do we do this? By looking at two things: (1) The Lord, and (2) Ourselves. We need to look at the Lord anew as the loving Lord who welcomes the sinner, who wants to welcome me, who wants to welcome you. And we need to look at ourselves anew too, to see our sins with an honesty that we haven't seen them with before. And to do that we need to be convinced that the good God loves us. It is only when know that God loves the sinner that we can have the strength to admit our sins. It is only when we know that He is strong that we can be comfortable admitting that we are week.
What this woman shows us, what the Lord's behaviour to her shows us, is one of many examples in the Gospels that demonstrate His love for the sinner, His love for all who turn to Him in humility.