“And behold, a woman of the city who was a sinner, when she learned that he was at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment”.
Still today the Gospel places us before a history that speaks of others different from us – a Pharisee, a sinner – but which basically is speaking of each one of us: a history that judges the infinite omission of which our sin consists. We easily forget what we have not done and the responsibility which we have failed to awaken within us in order to respond to the calls of that neighbour, embodied precisely in the faces of those beside us.
There are a lack of action and a negligence, often concealed thanks to their invisibility. The biblical text calls us to account on these realities, on all that we fail to do out of love in terms of our daily actions, concrete and tangible. The Gospel presents a gaze to us, that of Simon, who judges and despises, incapable of seeing the other in his pain and in his humanity. Simon’s is a blind faith like his evil and detached gaze, both on the woman, who for him is merely a prostitute, and on Jesus: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him”. Simon does not want the relationship, he distances himself, desiring only to define and to be certain of the people he has to deal with: to the sin of omission he adds the sin of laziness, as an inability to recognize that the other can change while it is we who fix him in a precise category. Simon’s gaze expresses the everyday banality which can give rise to evil.
In the face of the Pharisee’s stuffy and inhibited attitude the actions of a nameless woman burst in upon the scene, a prostitute, who knows neither the law nor the dictates of the current morality, yet who reveals a capacity for love not expressed in words – not by chance does she not utter a single one – but rather in the gestures within her reach. Thanks to the acceptance of Jesus who lets her express it, that same language of a body used to give pleasure here expresses the freely given love of a woman. The Pharisee protects himself from the breath of love that is entering his house, judging it inappropriate and scandalous. Jesus no, he allows her do it. And this very woman shows herself to be the true disciple whom Luke describes well with two images: she is behind the Teacher, almost for fear of expressing her need for unmerited love, like the woman with the haemorrhage who from behind, timidly touches Jesus’ mantle; she is at the Teacher’s foot, in an attitude of listening and expectation.
The Pharisee does not shun the rules of hospitality; the problem is that he shows little respect in comparison with the deep respect of the woman: the difference is played out at the level of fear and of the freedom of loving. The woman finds herself before a man, Jesus, who lets her be herself, revealing to her that she has faith because she has great love. It is the power of faith which is at the root of this love. Her faith is her belief in love and the consequence of this love is salvation: only by losing life for love does one save it. Jesus also reveals that love and forgiveness are inseparable. Love is presented by Jesus at the same time as the cause and effect of forgiveness: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little”. Of course, for Luke the love of the pardoned creature elicits the divine pardon and is at the same time its most authentic expression. Those who, because of their own claimed righteousness, do not feel in need love little, that is, they do not learn the movements of love, they remain locked into a cage of religiosity in which lawfulness, duty and correctness are the only things that count. Only a faith like that of the woman has the language and fragrance of love. Only if we feel in need of forgiveness can we love, only in love can we experience forgiveness, that kind gaze which rests on our shame and on our failures.
The Sisters of Bose
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 18, 2020
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