Feet of Jesus

On the 2nd of October 2006, something very memorable happened in an Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania USA. Charles C. Roberts, a milk-truck driver, drove into the Amish settlement and broke into a schoolhouse armed with three guns and other lethal weapons. Inside the schoolhouse, he sent the boys away as well as a pregnant mother and three other nursing mothers.

Thereafter, Mr. Roberts loaded a gun and shot at the girls he held hostage inside the schoolhouse. He ended up killing five girls and eventually shot himself when the police came following a report. Upon investigation, it was discovered that he left a note at home that indicated that he was angry with God and with himself. One of the reasons being the death of his  firstborn child nine years ago after living for only twenty minutes.

During the funeral of Charles Roberts, a remarkable thing happened that left everyone in shock and amazement. The Amish community, where Roberts killed five of their daughters, attended and participated fully and this was just a day after the burial of their girls. After the burial, they went each to hug his wife and her three children. That was not all, they went ahead to make some cash donation to the widow and her children.

A very simple way of describing what the Amish community did is to say that they forgave Charles Roberts and they did so with so much committed empathy. Forgiveness is one of those words most of us hear very often being preached from the pulpit. We even advise others on interpersonal levels to forgive and forget but it still remains a very challenging and teething activity for so many people. Often times, we try to weigh the offence for knowing if we can forgive or not as if forgiveness is based on the gravity of the offence; that is, lesser offences are forgiven while bigger ones are not considered for forgiveness. But that is entirely false.

Forgiveness is actually a divine activity just like giving. One of the ways we can reflect God in our lives is to forgive. From the First Reading today (2nd Sam.12:7-10.13), and the Gospel Reading (Luke 7:36-8:3), we come to understand the entailment of human failure to sin, the courage to repent and the act of forgiveness and acceptance. As we proceed with the reflection, I would like you to think of the worst thing someone had done to you. Just keep it in your mind and we shall get back to it before we conclude. It may not be a very interesting thing to do.  Take few seconds to do that but don’t switch off your listening antenna. Just stay tuned!

The First Reading is focused on the sinful act of a man we all know very closely and respect very dearly; David, the man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). David committed three consecutive sins: LUST, ADULTERY, and MURDER. He lusted after Beersheba the wife of Uriah while she was having a bath; he committed adultery with her and later killed the husband when he could not cover the crime.

Today we saw Nathan the prophet coming to convict him of his sins by means of a story. After the story, his anger was raised against the villain of the narrative which eventually became him (David). When David was confronted about his sin, he was instantly penitent and repentant. His deep-seated penitence brought about the reversal of the punishment God intended to bring upon him and his household. Hence, God instantly forgave him when he demonstrated his sorrow for the sin he committed.

The story of David is a clear indication to us that God is not interested in our unproductive and sinful past. Rather, He is interested in our reconstructed future. There is no doubt that every saint had a past and every sinner has a future. No matter how dirty and putrid your past could be, God is willing to give you another chance to construct a brighter and more glorious future (Isaiah 1:18).

In the Gospel Reading, we follow our Lord Jesus Christ into the house of Simon the Pharisee who had invited him for a meal. As the mealtime progressed a woman came uninvited carrying with her a flask of alabaster ointment. She heard that our Lord Jesus Christ was visiting the family of the Pharisees and she leveraged on that opportunity to encounter our Lord Jesus Christ not by initiating a conversation, but through a series of actions that are loaded with meanings.

Let us first and foremost look at the personality of the woman in question. Her name was not given. In fact, the gospel gave her two descriptions: a woman of the city and a sinner. To call someone “a woman of the city” denotes that she was notorious. It could be like the appellation “area boy”. This description gives more credence to the second description that calls her a sinner. She was thus well known in the city as a sinner. This is not to say that she was the only person committing sin in the city but hers was publicly known. It is most probable that she was a prostitute though it was not said.

The woman in question, who actually represents all of us, came to our Lord Jesus Christ uninvited and to carry out some activities that are significantly meaningful. She actually brought three things: her HEART, TEARS and an alabaster flask of OINTMENT. When we are talking about the woman, we should not isolate her heart. It was actually her heart that sought the Lord. Psalm 119:10 says: “With all my whole heart I seek you let me not stray from you commandment”. And through the prophet Jeremiah (29:13) God said: “And you will seek Me and Find Me when you search for me with all your heart”.

The woman came with her tears. Her repentant heart that sought the Lord brought out those tears from within her. She actually cried from her heart. To demonstrate her penitence, she went down to the feet of our Lord. Now the feet is the lowliest part of the human body that is always in constant contact with dirt. To get to the feet of our Lord she must have knelt down which is a sign of submission and whoever kneels before God  can stand before anyone.

Our penitent woman used her tears to wash the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ. This will remind us of what our Lord did later; washing the feet of the apostles (John 13:1-17). By washing the feet of our Lord, the woman was actually demonstrating the inner cleansing she was undergoing. As she was doing that she was symbolically repeating the penitential prayer of David: “purge me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

Thereafter, she brought the flask of alabaster ointment which was very costly (Matt. 26:7; Mark.14:3), and after drying the wetted feet of our Lord with her hair, she anointed his feet with the oil. Using such a costly cosmetic on the feet that were cleansed shows how precious a renewed and repentant heart is to God.

As all these spiritual interfaces were going on, the host, Simon the Pharisee, was giving a human judgement based on what he was seeing. Our Lord heard this from his judging mind: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him”. For Simon the Pharisee two things were clear: our Lord Jesus Christ was not a true prophet, furthermore, the woman of the city and sinner has no future. Thus, he was prejudiced and judgemental at the same time. but for our Lord Jesus Christ, her act of penitence gained a new future for her.

Our Lord actually replied Simon with a parable which by subtle interpretation represented Simon and the woman. In the parable, two individuals were debtors to one man. One owed so much; five hundred denarii and the other fifty denarii. The creditor, however, pardoned both of them. Now our Lord asked Simon; which of them will love the creditor more and he answered very well, the one who owed much. At this point, our Lord now said of the woman: “… her sins, which are many, are forgiven for she loved so much. This was a simple message to Simon that he is also a sinner like the penitent woman, though his sin may not be as much as hers

Often we condemn people because of one thing or the other as if we do not sin. The simple truth is that we either sin differently from them or we sin more privately than them. Beyond a city woman and a sinner, we now see a woman with so much love as well as faith, as our Lord finally told her: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace”. St. Paul in the Second Reading (Gal.2:16.19-21), took up this theme of faith with the memorable assertion that we are justified by faith and not by the works of the law.

Going back to our main preoccupation, it is not so right for us to condemn people for one thing and overlook numerous other good things about them like Simon did to our repentant woman. We all sin against God (Romans 3:23). We also sin against one another. Beyond the sin is the courage to repent. Forgiveness and acceptance come afterwards. Often we fall into the problem of rationalising over our sins and failures. We give excuses as to why we did certain things and failed to do others. These attitudes discourage true repentance.

The same applies to forgiveness. God does not weigh our sins before forgiving us in the same way, we should, like the Amish community in our story let go and let God. Our Lord Jesus Christ being perfect and sinless was in the position to judge the woman like Simon his host did. Instead, he supported her in her decision for a renewed and changed life.

Back to the concise exercise, we started at the beginning of the reflection. What is it that someone did to you that you cannot forgive? How long will you live with that? Do you also offend people and expect them to forgive you? Imagine if God refused to forgive David for the tripartite sin he committed. Imagine if our Lord Jesus Christ dismissed the woman of the city, a.k.a the public sinner. There is absolute need to forgive and free our minds in order to travel lighter through the corridors of life. The Amish community did it for Charles Roberts and his family, Saint Pope John Paul 11 did it for Mehmet Ali Agca who shot in in 1981 and you can do it for that friend, brother, sister, mother, father, uncle, aunt, cousin and the one you call your enemy.

We end with this traditional penitential song.

God of mercy and compassion, look with pity upon me
Father let me call Thee Father ’tis thy child returns to Thee

Jesus Lord, I ask for mercy, let me not implore in vain
All my sins I now detest them, never will I sin again.

By my sins, I have deserved death, and endless misery
Hell with all its pains and torments, and for all eternity.

Jesus Lord, I ask for mercy, let me not implore in vain
All my sins I now detest them, never will I sin again.

By my sins, I have abandoned, right and claim to Heaven above
Where the Saints rejoice for ever, in a boundless sea of love.

Jesus Lord, I ask for mercy, let me not implore in vain
All my sins I now detest them, never will I sin again.

See our Savior bleeding, dying, on the cross of Calvary
To that cross, my sins have nailed Him, yet He bleeds and dies for me.

Jesus Lord, I ask for mercy, let me not implore in vain
All my sins I now detest them, never will I sin again

Have a great Sunday and a beautiful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.







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