Imagine for a moment that we were guests at the supper we’ve just heard about in the gospel. The host must have been very proud that he was able to convince Jesus to come for a meal. This would be a social coup for him. We’ve all known people who were ‘priest collectors’ They would rattle off the names of all the priests or monsignors or even bishops they the managed to snag for an evening meal and share with you the chit chat of the evening meal. Every new priest was feather in their cap.
From the gospel telling of this meal it would appear that the Pharisee thought that Jesus should be honored that he was invited to his home. Jesus was invited but not really welcomed. His host never bothered to show Jesus the basic good manners of hospitality. There was no greeting kiss, no washing of dusty feet, and no anointing with oil.
The Pharisee was more than annoyed when this woman of the streets crashed the meal. Ignoring him and the other guests she went straight to Jesus and as we’re told she bathed his feet with her tears of gratitude. She dried them with her long hair and then anointed them with ointment.
The Pharisee and probably everyone else at the table are convinced this intruding, brazen woman did not belong there. They were shocked that Jesus accepted her kindnesses. She was not invited but she was welcomed by Jesus. This shocked both host and guests. He can’t be who he claims to be, a prophet, otherwise he would know what kind of a woman she is, a woman of the streets, a sinner of the worst kind. How can he let her touch him? Probably it was at this point the host ordered his servants to throw her out, get rid of her.
Maybe that’s when Jesus called for calm and told his story of the two debtors and asked the Pharisee whose name was Simon the question, which of debtors was more grateful for having his debt cancelled, the one who owed fifty or the one who owed five hundred.
We can imagine Simon saw himself as a very observant Pharisee. He kept the laws and observed the rituals and he just knew his life was pleasing to God and there was little in his life for which to be sorry. God must surely be happy with him especially compared to this woman who was a disgrace, an embarrassment to the whole community.
The repentant woman knew who she was and she was shamed by her life style and wanted to change. At some encounter with Jesus she was changed when Jesus touched her life and healed her broken spirit and told her to let the past be past. Because of the liberating forgiveness Jesus showed her, she braved the self-righteous host and guests and by her tears and anointing showed her great love in gratitude for God’s great forgiveness. As Jesus explains to Simon, “her many sins have been forgiven; that is the reason she has shown such great love. If she had been forgiven only a little bit, her love would be small.”
Today’s gospel brought to mind an article in the Star this past week. It was about a situation in St. Michael’s Parish in Cobourg. Some parishioners demanded the bishop remove their pastor because he let a known homosexual serve Mass. They found this shocking, claiming the man was in a same-sex union and an active homosexual, which was not true. The whole mess went to the Human Rights Tribunal. The issue was resolved when Bishop D’Angelis preached a sermon stating “nobody has the right to slander their brother or sister. We are all equal in our dignity but different in our roles. Great in society is the one who is capable of respecting the dignity of each person regardless of our differences in language, regardless of the colour of our skin, regardless of our sex or sexual orientation.” Even with this advice of their Bishop, there are still some parishioners who resent this man and still want the pastor removed.
The Eucharist should be open to everyone. Jesus shared the first Eucharist with the likes of Peter and Judas. Here at St. Gabriel’s we begin our gathering welcoming one another to this Mass. We all bring our own blessings and weakness accepting the invitation of Jesus, “come to me all you who are heavily burdened and find life difficult.” Hopefully no one here looks at another parishioner and wonders what he/she is doing here. Hopefully no one here can be identified with Simon the Pharisee. We are a gathering of sinners struggling to become saints. Facing our own weaknesses it is good to remember what one writer wrote:
“We think we have to get rid of all our sins and turn into perfectly loving people in order for God to love us. But in reality we are already loved to perfection by the good Lord, and we begin to change as we slowly let that love in. We begin to recognize who we really are. We soften our hearts toward the mess or messes we have made of our lives because we see that somehow we are loved “as is.” No matter what the burdens, disappointments and sins we may bring to this Eucharist may we be buoyed up by the words of St. John, In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”
Words the woman in our gospel never heard but the truth of which she knew in the depths of her being.