We try to read the Scripture for Mass before we arrive at church. Sometimes this means we’re on the way in the car when it happens, which is what happened this past Sunday. But usually we at least look it over so that Mass isn’t the first time we encounter the readings. It gives you an extra opportunity to hear it and absorb the message within the various readings.
This past Sunday, the 11th in Ordinary Time (Year C), we read the familiar Gospel before Mass. I was ready to listen again when our deacon proclaimed it, but I was not ready for my reaction to it. Here’s the short form of the Gospel which we heard:
Years ago, I learned about the Ignatian method of reflection on Scripture, where you imagine yourself within the story, often as an observer of the scene. I often do this at Mass, sometimes closing my eyes and really working to put myself into the events of the passage. This past Sunday, I easily slipped into the story, imagining that I was watching the scene unfold before my eyes. I looked at Jesus’ face and thought about the tenderness in His eyes as he looked at the woman, who goes unnamed. I thought about the amount of crying that had to happen for Christ’s feet to be washed by those tears. I thought about the extreme sorrow she had and how she had a real contrition for her sins (just as King David did in the Old Testament reading).
A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him,
and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.
Now there was a sinful woman in the city
who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee.
Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment,
she stood behind him at his feet weeping
and began to bathe his feet with her tears.
Then she wiped them with her hair,
kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself,
“If this man were a prophet,
he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him,
that she is a sinner.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Tell me, teacher, ” he said.
“Two people were in debt to a certain creditor;
one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty.
Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both.
Which of them will love him more?”
Simon said in reply,
“The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”
He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon,
“Do you see this woman?
When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet,
but she has bathed them with her tears
and wiped them with her hair.
You did not give me a kiss,
but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered.
You did not anoint my head with oil,
but she anointed my feet with ointment.
So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven
because she has shown great love.
But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The others at table said to themselves,
“Who is this who even forgives sins?”
But he said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Suddenly, instead of watching, I was the woman. In my mind, I backed away, trying to watch the scene from across the room, but I could not stop being pulled directly in front of my Lord, looking up at Him with tears in my eyes, weeping for my sins that burden me so greatly. Suddenly, I could feel His hand on my face, moving my chin up so I would look him in the eye, as He moved my hair away from my face so He could see right into my own eyes.
I started to pull back again, trying to move myself – staying in the story, but across the room – but He pulled me in again. I started to cry. Not just in the story, but at Mass. I realized that I was struggling not to weep openly, but tears filled my eyes and I could no longer see the pages of my missal in front of me. I thought again about that one sin that burdens me, even though I know I’ve been forgiven. Even though I know it’s Satan who tries to hurt me with it.
“I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.”
God gives me such gifts that I don’t deserve. He knows I am trying to trust, trying to hang on to the fact that He forgave me years ago for this sin. But He also knows I’m human and that I just hurt from it to this day. He knows that it’s been hard for me recently – though I am grateful that it hasn’t been as hard as it has been in the past. But it still comes up sometimes, and I have to stop what I’m doing and pray that God pushes away the demons who bring it up to me again.
And so He sends me reminders. Sunday was another of those reminders, and it will carry me forward as long as I hold on to it. And I’m sure that if I forget again, or my grip on this fact slips, He’ll remind me again.
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”