Fr. John Denburger, OCSO
11th Sunday of Ordinary Time
2 Samuel 12: 7 – 10, 13; Ps 32; Galatians 2: 16, 19 – 21; Luke 7: 36 – 8:3
“A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him…” having listened to the account of this dinner, we can rightly say that it turned out to be an unusual meal. There is the host, Simon by name, and of the party of the Pharisees, men publicly avowed enemies of Jesus. There is an unexpected visitor, a woman, known to be a sinner and then, there is Jesus who, in accepting the invitation, shows himself to be above all the rancor, the plotting of the Pharisees who were, in reality, very fearful men, terribly threatened by Jesus’ person and teaching.
I believe one of the lessons that flows from this Gospel is the lesson of “welcoming”.
Notice that Jesus looked at the woman but spoke to Simon not mincing words. Simon had invited Jesus but, in reality, did not welcome him with the usual customs. The message to Jesus from Simon was unspoken; it was the absence of the water for the feet, the kiss, the anointing with oil – it was a blatant “snub” – an act of passive aggression. A kind of: “…know your place…in my house I’ll treat you as I want!”
Notice again that Jesus looked at Simon and spoke of the woman, a very repentant woman. She welcomed Jesus extravagantly, extremely personally; her courageous, loving focus was on Him alone. We can imagine the negative, shocked reaction of the other guests not only at her but also at Jesus. Jesus, reclining at table, had his back to her and did not see her come in. When she bathed his feet with tears, in surprise he could have easily withdrawn them from her ministrations but, although Jesus was not the host, he welcomed her and received her repentant love. In turn, His welcome was extravagant: “Your sins are forgiven.”
There are a number of parallels for us here: we are present for a most sacred meal, the Holy Eucharist, here by invitation because the Holy Spirit has moved us to this great act of faith. As the woman ministered to the Lord Jesus, so He ministers to us and His welcome is extravagant: we are embraced by the Sacred Word, participate in the Life, Death, Resurrection, Ascension of the Lord, anointed with the love of the Trinity and we receive the Host Himself in the consecrated bread and wine. It is impossible to consider any other welcome as more sacred or extravagant or life-giving.
Of course, there is to be a welcome on our part, a decisive act of faith and love or we reduce all this to pure ritual or even magic. But our welcome, yours and mine, must go beyond just passive listening to the Word, to even attention to the ritual of this Mass and to merely coming forward to receive Holy Communion. We can do all these things and, in reality, not welcome the Lord. We come to this Eucharist like the repentant David or the repentant woman because we are on the journey of our faith – a journey from sin and sinfulness to a deeper life in Christ. If we are not here as honestly repentant men and women, then, sad to say, this Holy Eucharist has lost its meaning and power for us. Then, our being here is nothing more than a smug presence.
Our welcoming of the Lord is our daily living of our Catholic faith. If we are not welcoming His Spirit into our hearts each day so that we live as His people, then what we do here is not unlike Simon’s invitation of Jesus – it was devoid of truth, it lacked love, respect.
A “What if” question: when we stand before the Lord God, we might in defense of our sins say, “Lord, I received You in Holy Communion, I went to Mass. Please make note of these!” And the Lord might say, “Yes, you received me but you really did not welcome Me as the Lord of your life, your whole life. Your life each day left a lot to be desired.”
In the Rule of St. Benedict, there is this wisdom: “…the Lord is waiting every day for us to respond by our deeds to His holy admonitions. And the days of this life are lengthened and a truce is granted us for this very reason, that we may amend our evil ways. As the Apostle says, ‘Do you not know that God’s patience is inviting you to repent?’…”
Notice St. Benedict’s choice of words, he quotes St. Paul: “God’s patience is inviting you to repent.” Does that invitation, will that merciful invitation find a heartfelt welcome in your, my heart? Time will and does tell.