It is easy to imagine this woman - with hair probably to her waist or longer - weeping at Jesus’ feet in sorrow for her sins. She demonstrates such humility in her actions, to use her tears and her hair to wash the dusty, dirty feet of someone who has been walking in sandals on unpaved roads and paths, through the market places and in the fields. As a nurse I think of the contrast with how we health care providers can distance ourselves from our patients with gloves and gowns and masks. Not that I am recommending that we forego these protections for ourselves and others; it is reasonable and necessary to protect against exposure to infection. But, it might be well for us to imagine this gospel scene when ministering to a patient to remind us that God resides in that individual. Then we are humbled by His presence just as the woman in the gospel was and, despite our protective gear, there can be no distancing of our hearts and minds.
Another lesson I see in this passage relates to forgiveness from the perspectives of the one forgiving and the one being forgiven. We often hear in the gospels about the infinite love and forgiveness that Jesus demonstrates, but it can be really difficult to believe just how forgiving He is. We certainly do not “deserve” that kind of love. In our society we generally feel that the recipient of our love has to be deserving of that love and that we have to be deserving of the love which we receive. How foreign it is to see love given with no strings attached and how difficult it can be sometimes to trust and accept God’s infinite love and forgiveness. Yet it should be so simple to be like the woman in the gospel to recognize this gift and to treasure it as she did.
For those of us who are teachers, the excerpt from Paul’s letter to Timothy is fitting at the beginning of a new school year. Paul tells Timothy to persevere in his teaching and sharing of the gift he has received “through the prophetic word.” For me that is a reminder that we are called to teach not only our chosen subject matter, but also to share these scripture lessons about humility, love and forgiveness both in word and action. In some way, aren’t we all called to be teachers of the prophetic word whether formally in a classroom or informally with our families, business associates, friends or the strangers we encounter throughout our day?
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