Christ in the Sacraments — 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

To understand today’s gospel, it helps to know a little about the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day.  For example, when the Jews would sit down to eat dinner they would not sit at all–they “reclined at table,” on beds that came up the edge of the table. You would have a cushion under your chest or under your side, as you ate with your free hand, with your legs laid out behind you. This clarifies how the beautiful, penitent woman was able to access to Jesus’ feet. This also explains how John was able to lay his head upon Jesus’ chest at the Last Supper to ask Him who would betray Him. The Beloved Disciple was not a contortionist–he was laying beside Jesus at table.

A second important thing to know about the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day to appreciate this gospel is to understand how they felt about feet. The Jews considered feet to be among the dirtiest, humblest, and lowliest parts of the human body. This is why our parish’s patron, St. John the Baptist, said, “[There is] one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” In that Jewish culture, servants could not be commanded to wash the feet of others; it was considered even beneigth the dignity of a slave. Now we can understand the significance of the woman washing Jesus’ feet, and how much it means that Jesus later washed His disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.

But what was this woman thinking? Had she forgotten to bring a towel and a bowl of water at home? Was she so dumbstruck that her lips were unable to form the simple words, “I’m sorry and I want to return to God?” No, she knew what she was doing when she used her tears to cleanse, her hair to wipe, and her lips to kiss Jesus’ feet. When she heard that Jesus was going to be eating at the house of Simon the Pharisee I doubt she was holding that alabaster jar of ointment in her hands. No, she had to go and get it, and as she did she thought about exactly how she was going to approach Jesus.

What was Simon the Pharisee thinking? Had he forgotten about the customary curtesies in welcoming guests to one’s house in that culture: water for washing their own feet, oil for anointing one’s head against the harshness of the desert, a kiss in greeting at the door? Maybe he thought these were just optional, dispensible rituals. Regardless, Jesus put his finger on one major contributing factor: Simon the Pharisee loved Jesus little, while the beautiful penient woman loved Him greatly.

Simon gave Jesus an external gift, a meal in his home, but in addition to her ointment, the woman gave a gift of her very self; her tears, her hair, her kisses. As she had sinned with her body, she now sought to honor God though her body.

How does all of this apply to us? When we consider this beautiful, penitant woman and Simon the Pharisee relate to Jesus, we see two approaches the sacraments. For some, in the manner of Simon the Pharisee, the sacraments are just rituals, traditional customs, liturgical hoops the Church has us jump through. But for others, those with the heart of the woman who loved much, every sacrament is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. If you onlt remember one thing from this homily, remember this: every sacrament is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

Consider the sacrament of marriage. Today, some people say, “As long as we love each other, what difference does a ceremony in a church and a piece of paper make?” But these people do not realize that the sacrament of marriage actually makes present the love between Christ and his Church. The love between husband and wife not only resembles the love between Christ and his Church–like all the sacraments, marriage actually makes present. If your marriage is sacramental, and you and your spouse do not put up obstacles in the way, you can experience firsthand to love with which Jesus loves His bride, the Church, and how the bride receives her Lord. You experience the intimacy between the two and you can tap and draw on their love and the power in your marriage. marriage is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

Today, some people say, “I don’t really have any sins, but if I did, why should I have to go tell my sins to a priest to have my sins forgiven? God can hears my prayers. Won’t he’ll forgive me anyway.” Imagine if the penitent woman had stayed away from Simon’s dinner party that night in the gospel and prayed to God at home. Would she have been forgiven? Perhaps, but she would not have had her life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ. When you go to confession, you are personally encountering Jesus through the priest. If the priest does not put up obstacles in the way you will hear the words of Christ to you. And even if the priest does get in the way, you will hear that words that Jesus wants you to hear, just as He had said to the beautiful penitent woman: “Your sins are forgiven, go in peace.” The sacrament of reconciliation is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

These days some people say, “There’s a lot of Sundays in the summertime and a lot of things to enjoy on the weekend. Is it really that important that we come to Mass every Sunday?” To ask this about the most Blessed Sacrament is to be like Simon the Pharisee. Had Jesus not come as his guest that night, Simon would not have missed Him much; Simon would not have been that disappointed. And even after receiving Jesus under his roof, I can imagine Simon being left unchanged. But the beautiful penitent woman, who took Jesus’ flesh to her lips, was forgiven her sins and was filled with grace by the encounter.

In the celebration of this sacrament, and at every sacrament, let us appraoch Jesus with her humility, reverence, and love.

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