Jesus was invited to a party. No surprise there. Jesus was often invited to parties. (Could that be why many people don’t understand him very well?) Jesus was partial to dining with “sinners.” Which is code for people we label inferior or less than; who are marginalized, disinherited and shamed. People not of our caliber. Or Tribe. While sinners may have been Jesus’ preference or kinship, he was no respecter of invitations. For this particular party, his host was Simon, a Pharisee—a member of the religious elite—who was no doubt, curious about this infamous Rabbi Jesus.
Dinner parties in the first century Middle East were fueled by hospitality (similar to South Carolina parties, only without mint julep and southern accent). A basin would be provided so guests could wash the dust of the road from their feet. Often, scented olive oil would be made available to anoint a guest’s hair. And beloved guests would be kissed as they were greeted. For whatever reason, it appears that Simon offered none of these.
Here’s where the story gets interesting. A woman crashes the party. Literally. We do know that she wasn’t invited. And you could tell by what she was wearing that she didn’t do “church work,” if you know what I mean. A prostitute? We don’t know, save that she was most assuredly looked down upon. (The story tells us only that she “had lived a sinful life”.) The fact that she was allowed to enter the house is not unusual. In that time, followers of Rabbis were often given an opportunity to be near their teacher, even though the event may be “private.”
The woman is standing behind Jesus (who is reclined at the table) and begins to weep. We don’t know why or for how long. We do know that the tears fall upon Jesus’ feet, and that she has been crying long enough so that his feet are now wet. She unfastens her hair—more than likely long black hair, which had been tied up with a scarf—and lets it fall free. She kneels down to slowly and deliberately wipe his feet with her hair. She begins to kiss his feet (a behavior of passionate reverence) continuously and with affection. And then opening her vial (an alabastron of perfume, commonly worn by Jewish women around the neck), she pours oil on his feet, anointing them.
While the woman may have been disregarded until now, the scent of perfume sates the air, and attention is turned to this unknown at the feet of Jesus, weeping, caressing, kissing and anointing.
The shameless intimacy (and incaution) of her care, especially given her reputation, would have been scandalous to any guest of propriety. “How dare she!”
Indubitably, Simon got the drift. He says (at least to himself), “If this man (Jesus) were really a prophet, he’d know who this woman is.” And he begins to rifle through the litany of labels–“she’s a sinner, prostitute, single, divorced, from a dysfunctional family, not of the true faith, and no doubt, Methodist.”
I can easily blame Simon. But if I’m honest, labeling others is natural. And at times, comforting to base our morality over and against anyone who is different. But here’s the deal: whenever we label someone, we dismiss him or her. And that never turns out well.
Put yourself in that woman’s place. She lives in a world where she is shunned, criticized and belittled. A world where she is the brunt of jokes and held up as an example by mothers who wish to “warn” their daughters.
For much of her life she has felt wounded, broken and tattered.
And she is looking for hope.
She is looking for rest.
She is looking for grace.
Jesus is aware of Simon’s judgment. And he turns the tables. “Do you see this woman? I come into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she poured perfume on my feet.”
Notice this: Jesus didn’t shame her or change her or try to convert her.
When Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB, was asked, “How do you know who is to be your guru (teacher)?” He answered, “Because you fall in love.”
Well… this goes against our grain.
In our culture we believe, or mentally assent. We recite creeds.
What is certain is that we discourage vulnerability and the indiscriminate desire of the heart. Gratefully, love makes your soul crawl out of its hiding place. And this woman finds herself–her equilibrium, her salvation, her healing and her wholeness–by falling in love. By “falling” into that place of absolute vulnerability, when all of our boundaries (of control or answers or theological and religious piety) melt away, and we see who we are, and who we can become, and who we have pretended to be all along. We see ourselves through the eyes of grace.
As Jesus sends the woman on her way, he lets the whole household know, “She has been forgiven because she loved much.”
The woman didn’t learn this from a book or a seminar or a sermon. She knew this to be true in her heart.
This week I needed this story. Because I have lived disconnected from my heart, afraid of vulnerability and the stickum that grace is abundant. Everybody is a little broken. (Or, a lot). But that’s okay. Because it is from our brokenness that we love and become healers, and risk and pay attention, and fall down and get back up and are forgiven. And invest with our whole heart and indiscriminate desire. May each and every one of us find this freedom and wholeness.
Speaking of indiscriminate, my garden is a profligate banquet for the senses. Peony, poppy, Iris, Baptisia, rose, foxglove, geranium, astrantia. Grace indeed.
A blessed Memorial Day to all, especially to those who lost a loved one serving in the U.S. military. Let us honor their memory by saying no to anyone running roughshod over the self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal.
Quote for your week…
Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself ‘neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum
Notes: — The party story is told in the Gospel of Luke.
It’s almost summer. And my mid-year reminder that Sabbath Moment is possible because of gifts from readers like you. Thank you.
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Today’s photo credit — Inis Mor off the coast of Galway, Ireland, Cathy Roby… thank you Cathy… grateful for your photos… send to email@example.com
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Misc. in the mailbag…
–Terry, Thank you!!! I did receive the much needed Sanctuary moment you forwarded… and laughed at the reference to my favorite bullfrog and his wine… danced around the house to that one a lot when it first came out! Thank you for taking time to reply and forward to the people who deal with the spirits of the computer world… Peace and blessings, to you… Di
–Terry, Thank you for spilling your light every week on SM and FB. Your friend, Cynthia
–Terry, You were a big hit! People are still talking about it, and we got some great pictures. Thank you so much for what you offered us. It was perfect! God bless! Oh, and get some REST! Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor, St. Brenden’s
–Thank you for the history lesson on the word “saunter” and, yes, we should definitely saunter through the mountains, the woods and even the desert. The beauty is exquisite and should bring our minds to awe and wonder. Thank you, Terry, for your beautiful descriptive words this week. You certainly painted so many lovely pictures to dwell on and absorb. Have a wonderful week with friends… Ann
–Dear Terry, Thank you very much for coming to the good people of St. Brendan’s. I totally enjoyed your talk and laughed so much. Coming away from the St. Brendan’s dinner and your talk, I was asking which spot is my sacred place? Now I know that it is deep within me, where I retrieve so often to be with Our Beloved Lord in my joy, in the moments of distress and in my all, because He is my all. Anyway, I was honored listening to your presentation. May the Lord bless you, your ministry and all your loved ones. Let us be that one soul fully present to Him and Him alone always! Blessings, Kesook
–Hi, Terry… Every week when I read the photo credits from Sabbath Moment, I think I might like to share some with you… and I’m finally doing it! Attached are a couple of photos of roses in my garden. Also, I want to thank you for all that you share with us, from Sabbath Moment to the quotes and memes on Facebook. (“Clearly, Jesus was here…” was the BEST!) I so appreciate your perspectives!! Peace and blessings, Christine
–Safe travels to sunny Florida. I was in the Keys for four months and just got home to Virginia. The Sea, sand, sky were my therapy in the Keys. I need to find some “WD40 for my (weary) soul”. If you can, say a little prayer sometime for me. I pray for you. It is more than enough! Peace, Pam
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
This is a special love song
for all the young people in the world,
here’s hoping someone kind
watches over each and every one,
because in every young face,
no matter how angry or sad,
lies the blossom of a pure hear,
not evil wrong or bad.
Misty River (Heather’s Song)
Candle Against the Wind
I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.
I have not love
except it comes from Thee.
Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the Wind.
Our Hearts Should Do This More
I sit in the streets with the homeless
My clothes stained with the wine
From the vineyards the saints tend.
Light has painted all acts
The same color
So I sit around and laugh all day
With my friends.
At night if I feel a divine loneliness
I tear the doors off Love’s mansion
And wrestle God onto the floor.
He becomes so pleased with Hafiz
“Our hearts should do this more.”