Eleventh Sunday In Ordinary Time, June 13, 2010

2 Samuel 12: 7-10, 13

Galatians 2: 16, 19 - 21

Luke 7: 36 - 8: 3

Let's start with a song today, even though the last verse is a bit troublesome. You'll note that it doesn't reflect the Gospel According to Luke or Anyone Else, but rather conflates Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and this Sunday's unnamed sinful woman. Still, although it's not completely accurate from a scriptural point of view, it might give us a "way in" to reflecting on this gospel.

"Quem Quaeritis?"

The nard slipped through her fingers, and mingled with her pain:
All of her guilt and her fear spread for the world to explain;
Still, she kept washing his feet with her tears, and drying them with her hair,
Washing his feet with her tears, and drying them with her hair.

O what was it that led her to him, in the face of the gentleman's scorn?
Was it her sin or herself, the true self for which she'd been born?
As she kept washing his feet with her tears, and drying them with her hair,
Washing his feet with her tears, and drying them with her hair.

O who do you seek for, Mary? O Mary, why do you weep?
Your Lord is not dead, he's alive -- he is calling all sleepers from sleep,
Soon he'll be touching your face with his hand, and drying those tears with his care,
Touching your life with his life, and drying those tears with his care.

It's not surprising, really, that the song conflates these three women, since an episode like this takes place in all four gospels. In Mark 14 and Matthew 26, the woman is also unnamed, though not marked out as a "sinner." When she anoints Jesus' head just prior to the Passion, Jesus answers her critics by claiming that she has anointed him for burial and that her action will always be told "in memory of her" (Mt 26: 13). In John 12, Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus' feet and wipes them with her hair, much to Judas' displeasure. And then, after the burial of Jesus, it's Mary Magdalene who goes to the tomb to anoint his body. So actually, there seem to be four women in question! It's up to scholars to sort out the individual actors in these stories, but for our purposes, let's return to the first two verses of the song, which, although imaginative, seem connected with today's gospel.

This woman is "known" by everyone in her little town of Capernaum. Each time she walks to the market or the well, everyone knows what she is a sinner. That doesn't necessarily mean that she's a prostitute (although the traditional but erroneous identification of Mary Magdalene as a reformed lady of the evening comes from this story and the lines that follow it in Chapter 8); after all, women can sin in other ways -- just like men! Still, Simon the Pharisee's private musing "if this fellow were really a prophet, he would have known what sort of woman she is" lays out the context of this story : it's not a question of "who" she is, but "what."

And yet what we see in the song and, I think, in the gospel is that she's been freed from the burden of having to carry what other people "know." Sometime earlier Jesus had freed her to become a "who" again; now she can't resist her desire to show her love and gratitude to him in this most public manner. Love doesn't care about shame. Neither does joy. And she's living both.

Simon the Pharisee insists on thinking about persons as things "whats." His treatment of Jesus no water for his feet, no oil for his head, no kiss reflects this enslavement to his own rigid categories. There's no room in Simon's life for hospitality, that great biblical virtue; his guests seem more like trophies than persons to him. But the woman quite literally lives hospitality, so much so that her whole body gets involved in manifesting it. Why? Jesus explains that it's because she's been forgiven much. That should lead us to wonder about Simon. His lack of hospitality suggests that he hasn't experienced this kind of liberation, most likely because he's never realized his own need for pardon. He's a judge, after all, not a "sinner." Ironically, that kind of attitude leaves him locked up rather than free.

As always, we'd better ask ourselves the same question: what about us? Do we recognize our own need for pardon? Or are we more like Simon, that is, "all set", not particularly bad nor particularly good, but just complacent about ourselves and our way of being and seeing?

If, on the other hand, we do recognize our neediness, do we also realize that we've already received the forgiveness that will heal it? Do we believe that this same Jesus who allowed a sinful woman to anoint his feet is calling on all of us sinful women and men to become members of his own Body, especially through Eucharist? According to the song, he is "calling all sleepers from sleep." So, sleepers, let's awake and run to him, alabaster jars in hand.

—Sr. Nuala Cotter, RA