Today’s gospel on this Thursday in the 24th week of Ordinary time is one of my favorite stories. Allow me to set the scene. The story in Luke’s gospel 7:36-50 recalls the story of a “sinful” woman who arrives uninvited to a dinner where Jesus is the guest of honor. This uninvited and unwanted woman comes in and goes straight to Jesus, where she proceeds to kneel and to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and to use her own hair to dry them. She washes and kisses his feet and anoints his feet with costly oil. I love this story not only because it is a beautiful display of love for Jesus, but also because of the message of transforming love that is part of “the back story” to this moving scene.
The back story to this scene, I believe, is that Jesus has surely encountered this unnamed woman in Luke’s gospel before this unannounced meeting. She perhaps has heard him preaching, or has been witness to his healings. But she has most surely had her own personal encounter with Jesus, where his unconditional love has touched and healed the core of her being. She is transformed. Her story of encounter with Jesus—is my story. Her story of encountering Jesus and transformation—is our story. Her story has a message for each of us.
One message for me that comes through loudly in this story is that encountering God has the power to transform us in ways we can hardly imagine. Encountering the Divine enhances our ability to love. Perhaps a question that this gospel begs us to ask ourselves is “How do I express my gratitude and praise to the One who loves me unconditionally and forgives my transgressions for the asking? Some years ago, I felt called to discern religious life out of a deep love for God and a desire to serve God by serving the people of God. Even as I discerned, in the back of my mind, I sometimes would say in prayer, surely you are not calling me to religious life, after all, don’t you know my life story? Well, it turns out that the last time I used that line in prayer to God, immediately and quite unexpectedly, a woman I did not know shared her journey into religious life. Her story was exactly like mine and she was preparing to take her first vows. That meeting was not a coincidence. It was an encounter with the Sacred.
There is a song that I am always reminded of when I hear this gospel story about the woman washing Jesus’ feet. The song is called “Alabaster Box,” by CeCe Winans and it really brings this scripture to life. I invite you to enjoy a YouTube of the song later. However, I want to share here the lyrics of the last verse of the song:
I can’t forget the way life used to be
I was a prisoner to the sin that had me bound
And I spent my days
Poured my life without measure
Into a little treasure box
I’d thought I’d found
Until the day when Jesus came to me
And healed my soul
With the wonder of His touch
So now I’m giving back to Him
All the praise He’s worthy of
I’ve been forgiven
And that’s why
I love Him so much.
The lyrics of the song say it well—encountering Jesus and being open to transformation is life-changing.
Perhaps being a Sister is how you feel called to express your gratitude for God’s unconditional love?