Stained glass window from Sacred Heart Church in Bellingham; Sinful woman washing feet of Jesus with her tears.

Yesterday’s Gospel of the sinful woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears (Luke 7:36-50) touched me profoundly, and the grace of that WORD continues to feed me. Please allow me to share this grace with you along with my desire to offer you some spiritual food.

Let us state the obvious first: a sinful woman encounters Jesus Christ! Did she meet him before seeking him out? Or did she seek him because of his reputation for healing and forgiving?

Perhaps the sequence of events is important, but none the less, let’s look at her response:

  • she follows him to a home where he is seated at a dinner
  • she brings a flask of ointment
  • she stands / sits behind him at his feet – weeping
  • she bathes his feet with her tears
  • she wipes his feet with her hair
  • she kisses his feet
  • she anoints his feet with ointment

Indeed, this is a scene of great emotion! what caused this woman to weep such copious amounts of tears that are sufficient for cleansing the feet of Jesus? What leads her to such expressions of love, care and concern? such humility and gratitude?

Clearly, from what follows in the Gospel story – we learn she has experienced the healing mercy of Jesus, which begins with his accepting her – in her sinfulness. Then, he forgives her sins. In this ‘encounter’ the woman experiences not only forgiveness – but the deep healing of her life which flows from this merciful love of Jesus. This experience, this encounter with Jesus stirs her to her core, heals her and restores her to her truest self, as God created her, restores her dignity, leading her to a powerful response of love in return.

Encounter (Eucharist / Sacrament / Word) – acceptance – forgiveness (Sacrament of Reconciliation) – healing – conversion (holiness) – response of love (Vocation).

I have had such powerful experiences of Jesus’ encountering me in moments of my own sinfulness, forgiving me, and restoring what I had lost and could not recover. Only this merciful love of Jesus can heal the wounds of sin and make us whole. This is the gift of salvation. These were the key moments of my life journey that caused me to truly know Jesus, and in the process to become ‘truly Christian’; capable of living my life for him according to the will of God, in service of others – in my case – as a priest and now a bishop.

My friends, this was the mission of Jesus – given him by the Father, to bring the loving mercy of God to the world, healing us, individually, from sin and restoring us to the dignity that is ours as children of God, making us capable of living the vocation of holiness and loving service to which each is called.

This is the mission Jesus left to the apostles, and through them to the church. The one absolutely necessary element for us to continue this mission is our own encounter with Jesus, who forgives, who heals, who restores us to life. Once we have had this encounter, we, as the sinful woman in Luke’s Gospel, experience a profound conversion, and begin to live as true Christians. We begin to live selflessly,  with great love, as the natural and only response to Jesus, and to those to whom we are sent in his name.