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 (Lk 7:37-38).
Logistically, to our modern minds, the setting of this verse may appear to be confusing. How could this “sinful” woman be standing behind Jesus such that her tears would fall on his feet? This could be confusing to us because when we think or imagine someone sitting and eating, they do so by sitting in a chair. Thus the feet would be toward the front of the person.
During the time period Jesus lived, the customary practice when eating was not to sit at all but to recline. Thus, the woman was standing behind the feet of Jesus as he reclined, and her tears fell on his feet. She then knelt down, dried his feet with her hair, and then anointed Jesus’ feet with the ointment she brought for him.
This is a simple but powerful scene of contrition. This is the posture we are to approach Jesus when we have sinned. We are not to rationalize, deny, ignore, or come grudgingly forward when we are caught and held accountable for our sin. We are to feel true contrition, sorrow, for the sins we have committed because the healing presence of Jesus leads us to a place of compassion and understanding for the hurt we have caused to God and others through our sinful actions.
Unfortunately, there are too many leaders in our secular as well as our church leadership who assume the posture of Simon the Pharisee in this account. They puff up their chests in righteous indignation over the sins of another or others, while not being transparent and forthcoming with their own sinful choices and behavior. Using instead their means of power, prestige, and places of honor, not to serve and empower others, but to hide behind and justify or rationalize their own weakness and vices.
Imagine where our Church would be right now if those who have used their positions of power and privilege to abuse children and at risk adults would have instead assumed the posture of the woman in today’s Gospel.
How about this? How about all those who have abused, covered up, or contributed in any overt act or omission, that lead in any way to the abuse of anyone, invited those they have abused, along with their families, to the church sanctuary. When the honored guests arrived, they would be escorted to sit in the front pews to participate in a Mass offered for their healing and reconciliation from the pain, horror, shame, and anguish that they have suffered and endured.
After today’s Gospel from Luke 7:36-50 is proclaimed, the abusers would then come down from the altar, take off their chasubles and stoles, place them at the feet of those they had abused, bathe their feet in tears of sorrow for the sin they committed. Next they would wipe and anoint their feet with the holy oil that the priests and bishops hands were anointed with at their ordination. Then they would offer their letter of resignation from public ministry to those they abused and ask for forgiveness.
What would our Church be like if this was the response to our present crisis? May we all remember and live by Matthew 25:40 “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers [and sisters] of mine, you did it for me.”
Photo: Reconciliation scene before the altar at Our Lady of Florida Retreat Center