Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time C
When was the last time you bathed? No, I’m not detecting a particular funk here in church this morning. Let me rephrase the question: When was the last time you took a bath? While we all clean up pretty regularly, most of us stop taking baths with any regularity about the time we stop playing with toys in the tub.
Anther question: When was the last time you gave someone else a bath? We wash all kinds of things—the dishes, the car, the dog—but bathing another person generally occurs only in two circumstances: with babies, or with the weak and infirm. Let’s consider giving a baby a bath. While the soap in the water betrays mom’s or dad’s hope of getting the kid clean, a baby’s bath time is about much more than that. There’s laughter and splashing, cuddles and kisses. Bathing another person is a very intimate matter. It is an act of tenderness, of loving care. What is apparently about cleanliness is also about togetherness—about bringing two people closer in their relationship with one another.
This Sunday we hear the stirring gospel story of the sinful woman who bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears and washes them with her hair. But in order to better appreciate this striking gesture, we need to give some thought to the story behind the story. Why did she do this in the first place? The translation of the Bible we use at Mass leads us a bit astray today. It has Jesus say, “Her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.” It makes it seem that her good deed has earned God’s mercy for her. It’s actually quite the opposite which is true: “Her many sins have been forgiven, so she has shown great mercy.”
That makes it clear this woman has encountered Jesus before—and that encountering him radically changed her. How else could you explain her behavior? This woman—whose sinful reputation is widely known—barges into the home of a religious leader in the middle of a dinner party and kneels down crying at the feet of the guest of honor. Her action is not a sudden inspiration, either, because she arrives carrying a container of expensive perfume. I don’t know about you, but where I come from, this is not normal behavior! Only something big could cause somebody to act out this way! Like David and other sinners, great and small, throughout the Bible, this woman recognizes that all sin is a sin against the Lord. She recognizes, too, that all sin must therefore be confessed before the Lord, for it is the Lord alone who has the power to forgive sin. And unlike the Pharisee who invited Jesus over for dinner, this woman recognizes that that divine power of forgiveness is at work in Jesus. Before she bathed his feet with her tears, Jesus had given her a bath—not one of water washing her body, but of mercy purifying her heart.
So, what does all this mean for you and me?
When was the last time you bathed? Our life in Christ, the life of Christ in us, began with a bath: when we were washed in the waters of Baptism. But just as in our bodily life, so in our spiritual life: bathing once is not sufficient for a lifetime. We’re sinners. We sin. What parts of your life and mine need to be washed clean by Jesus? Maybe we have some daily sins—the sort that have been a part of our life so long we just assume we’ll never be rid of them. Why not ask Jesus to wash them away? Or maybe we’re bearing guilt for a big sin—recent or long past—that seems too big, of which we’re too ashamed, to seek forgiveness. Ask Jesus to wash you clean. Don’t forget what Jesus teaches in the gospel: the greater the sin forgiven, the greater the love. He wants to cleanse us so he can bring us closer to himself. We have no reason to be afraid.
And when was the last time you bathed the feet of Jesus? Some of us haven’t thought to do so because we didn’t even know we could. Of course, we don't wash Jesus' feet because he needs our forgiveness; we do it to show out love—because we long to get closer to him. We can wash Jesus’ feet by our devotion. We literally sit as his feet when we come in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, but find ourselves there, too, whenever or wherever we pray. Pour out your heart by “wasting” some time on Jesus. And we can also wash his feet in our acts of charity toward one another. Did Jesus not say that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters, we do to him? Who among our friends and neighbors, among our coworkers or schoolmates, needs to be bathed in mercy? Reach out to comfort them and you reach out to Christ.
When was the last time you bathed? Let Jesus wash away your sins in his Divine Mercy. And when was the last time you gave someone else a bath? Console the Sacred Heart of Jesus by reaching out to him in devotion and to your neighbor in charity. Experience Christ's mercy and show him your love.