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.
Today’s Gospel account 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 or 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 others through our sinful actions.
Unfortunately, there are too many leaders in the secular as well as the church who assume the posture of Simon the Pharisee in this account. They puff up their chests in righteous indignation over the sins of 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 and protect themselves from being held accountable, and/or justifying and rationalizing their own weaknesses and vices.
In so doing though, they are not aware of the depth of their own sin and thus to “the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little” (Lk 7:47). One is not forgiven because God is not willing to forgive, but because he will not go against our free will. If we are unaware or unwilling to bring our sins forward in a contrite manner, we are cutting ourselves off from the healing forgiveness of God. But if we, like the woman in today’s Gospel account, are willing to bear our soul with humility and sorrow we will not only be forgiven but experience a deeper outpouring of God’s love. The one who confesses contritely more is forgiven more and thus is able to love more.
Would that each of us really grasped this gift of grace that God offers us. What if instead of hiding from, being in denial of, rationalizing, or justifying our sin, we embraced it and sought the healing forgiveness of Jesus. In opening up our hearts and minds to the forgiving and purifying love of the Holy Spirit there is a pain, as there is in any healing, but also freedom, when we are able to do as the woman in the Gospel did today. When we trust Jesus as she did with our deepest and darkest sins, we too can be healed so to be freed of the shackles that bind us and to love as we have been loved. God loves us more than our worst mistakes, but we can only know that when we confess and are forgiven of them.