When was the last time you wept over your sin?
It is an image that is hard to get out of your head once it climbs in there. Perhaps you have seen it in your own life. Or perhaps it comes from your reading of the gospel today. It is the image of a woman (or anyone for that matter) crying bitter tears over the mess they have made of their life. It is bearable if you are the ‘official listener’ – if they have come to you for comfort or counseling or advice. Somehow that context makes it ‘okay’ for them to be weeping and you to be there to support them and let them unburden their burdens. But it is so awkward when you stumble upon it, isn’t? You are walking in the park, and come around the corner, and there is a couple crying on a park bench. Or you are in a restaurant, and suddenly tears and sobbing erupt from the table next to you. Do you avert your eyes and pretend it is not happening? Do you quiet your own conversation in deference to the obvious pain next to you? What do you do?
It is not hard, then, to imagine the reactions around the table at the dinner where Jesus was at. Slack jawed astonishment. Embarrassed silence. Awkward shuffling of chairs. People looking at one another – thinking: “Where are the bouncers?” The only one who seems to not be bothered is the one who had the most cause to be embarrassed – Jesus. After all, it was his feet being washed by tears, his feet dried by hair and anointed with oil. What do you do when someone throws themselves at your feet weeping?
(It happened to me once at the cathedral when I was a deacon – when a woman whom by her own admission was 2,000 years old – explained the nature of the curse upon her. She was also mother eve, Mary Immaculate and the 14th daughter of the Cosmoscrator –whatever that is, and she bore upon herself the curse of the entire world because she did not bear Louis IX’s child. [mime flipping through a book, trying to find directions when someone tells you all this] “You don’t believe me, do you? Here is the curse – and then she did this elaborate ritual dance around me, finally collapsing, and the she wrapped both arms around my feet, sobbing and weeping there. I can tell you, I was very uncomfortable. It was very awkward.)
Jesus does not miss a beat. And in that moment, you and I get a glimpse into the heart of our savior. Because Jesus does what is in his heart to do “*snap” – just like that. He tells a story about debts forgiven and love returned for love, and a mercy that wants to free, not just the woman at his feet, but all those in the room. And you can imagine the end of that conversation when he looks that woman in the eye and says – “because you have loved much, your sins are forgiven.” Because you have been willing to weep over your sins, and seek forgiveness, it has been granted to you. And more over, Jesus tells the slack jawed group gathered around her, that this woman has greater potential then all of them because she was not afraid to show her love, not afraid to weep in her sorrow, not afraid to love her God.
Two things flow from this gospel for us to ponder on and pray about this week. The first is the attitude of the woman and today’s gospel question. When was the last time you wept over your sins? When was the last time that you realized how harmful your actions were – to your relationship with your spouse, your friend, your family, your parish, your son or daughter, parent or grand parent? When we are in touch with how much we have been forgiven and how well we have been loved, there is a great power in that for good, a great freedom which comes that allows us to pass on that goodness to others.
Secondly, reflect a while on the response of Jesus to the woman and the crowd at table. He didn’t run from the woman’s sins and tears and sorrow. Nor did he hide from the hardened hearts of Simon and those who were judging her in their hearts. Rather, in both cases, he offered the divine mercy, the forgiveness of the debt, and the chance to begin anew. That stance of Jesus toward all who approach him, should give us great confidence in our own sinfulness – that we can approach the throne of mercy and love. Concretely, do an examination of conscience this week, and set aside some time to make use of the sacrament of forgiveness sometime over these summer days.
You see, God is neither put off by our tears nor discouraged by our hardness of heart around our sins. His one desire is that we be free to love. May we who receive this love around this altar never cease to anoint our Lord’s feet with our love.