Cycle C: Eleventh Sunday of the Liturgical Year



This incident, which Luke is the only evangelist to report, is one of the most popular scene of the Gospel. It is popular because we can easily recognize ourselves in one character or the other. Simon the Pharisee, who invites Jesus to a meal, is a respectable man, while the prostitute, who comes to meet Jesus, is despised by everyone. Yet the little parable that Jesus narrates to his host turns everything upside down. It reveals to us what our relationship with Christ should be.



I-   The prophetic gesture of that woman


In this Gospel scene, we see Jesus sitting at table in the house of a rich Pharisee who was very knowledgeable about the Law. This learned man had invited Jesus and some people from his own caste to come and share a meal with him, even though the young prophet from Nazareth felt much more at home with fishermen, workers and ordinary people.


Yet this young man – Jesus – attracted the crowds and seemed gifted with a very special charism to interpret the Law. He was even acclaimed as a prophet and his teachings were filled with great wisdom, even though he never attended the rabbinical schools of the time. Actually, it was out of curiosity that Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to his table. That is why he did not show him any particular sign of hospitality, but remained rather cold.


So, everyone took his place around the table, not the way we do today with chairs, but by reclining on a broad couch and resting on one’s left arm. However, the meal began in a rather embarrassing way when the guests saw a woman, who had a bad reputation in the town, entering the room. Simon and his friends felt quite embarrassed, especially when they saw her weeping and coming up with something hidden under the fold of her dress. All were surprised to see her kneeling near Jesus’ feet in order to hold them in her hands. Her eyes were filled with tears, as she poured out her precious ointment, untied her long hair and used it to wipe Jesus’ feet.


By doing that, the woman showed how great her love was. Her gestures were not conventional actions, but gestures that came from the heart. Moreover, she expected from Jesus something she never got from anybody else: she expected to be understood. And Jesus did much more than that: he referred to her as an example to others. Finally, she behaved towards Jesus as if he was God in person, when she anointed his feet with ointment. That was a prophetical gesture which foretold the Resurrection. It was inspired by the Spirit of God.


Every guest looked at his neighbour out of the corner of his eye, so astonished and scandalized that he was. How could a woman perform such ambiguous gestures in public? Simon could not refrain from thinking: “My guest is really disappointing. He does not have much insight, if he is not aware that the person huddling at his feet is a woman of very bad repute. She is a great sinner.” Yet nobody in the room dared to say anything.



II-   The answer of Jesus


Jesus broke the silence created by the embarrassment of the other guests. He addressed himself to the master of the house to tell him a story, a story which reflected the situation in which Simon found himself. Then Jesus reproached Simon with his coldness. He told him gently: “When I came into your house, you poured no water over my feet… you gave me no kiss… you did not anoint my head with oil…” 


In other words, Jesus told him: “You were very kind to invite me, but there was no warmth in your hospitality. You think that this woman behaved in a queer manner and that I am very naive to allow her to weep on my feet and anoint them with a very precious ointment. You do not understand that, if this woman showed me so many signs of gratitude, it is because she felt liberated from her guilt. She felt that I accept her as she is and forgive her. If you find her gesture ambiguous, it is because you don’t understand anything of the language of the heart, the language of gratitude. You are all wrapped up in your feeling of self-sufficiency, so proud of yourself that you don’t even think of showing me the most elementary signs of hospitality. You are wrong to despise that woman.” That is the substance of what Jesus told his host.


The prostitute from Jerusalem showed much more warmth than Simon. And Jesus underlined what she did for him. He said: “She has poured out her tears over my feet and wiped them away with her hair… she has been covering my feet with kisses ever since I came in… she has anointed my feet with ointment…”


Jesus was touched by the attitude of that woman. He revealed to her that God is the source of the love she showed him. And he revealed to all those present there that, if she showed such a great love, it is because she herself had made the experience of God’s love for her, when her sins were forgiven.

However, those who were at table with him grumbled at what they heard. They were unable to understand what Jesus said, because they had never made the experience of that love in their lives. Because they considered themselves righteous in the eyes of God, they did not feel the need of experiencing His love.


III-   Where do we stand?


The Gospel of today reminds us that Jesus often went to sit at table with sinners and that the “right-thinking” people were shocked to see that. But he accepted also the invitations he received from orthodox people, like this Pharisee. Because he welcomed the outcasts as well as the sinners, Jesus did not want to say that he rejected the “right-thinking” people. He welcomed everybody, but he was free enough to challenge their intolerance. So, everyone of us could ask him/herself: “Am I also open to everybody?”

While the other guests thought: “What a disgrace on the part of that woman!” Jesus could understand the language of the heart, the language of deep gratitude. He could see beyond the appearances. He saw what that woman had on the inside, while others were all scandalized. We could ask ourselves: “Do I understand the language of the heart?” Before we answer this question, let us listen to the following testimony.


“My father was a gentle and soft-spoken man, deeply compassionate and accommodating to a fault. He had few loyalties, but these were intense. The strongest of all was his love for his family. There was no sacrifice he would not and did not make for anyone of us. Once, in the late sixties, my younger brother was arrested by the police while participating in a peace demonstration. Another brother had the unenviable task of breaking the news to my father that one of his sons was in jail. Carefully choosing his words, he began to explain over the phone what had happened. But he had not gotten very far before my father interrupted. “Where is he?” he asked, “I’ll go and join him.” Now this was from a man fast approaching his seventieth birthday, who had little understanding of the issues involved and even less taste for demonstrations of any kind. But his response was spontaneous and unconditional. Only a deep love is capable of such things.”    (Brian Menezes)


Does it not happen sometimes that we are like Simon the Pharisee, passing judgments on others. When we condemn people around us, it is usually because we are not aware of our own sins and weaknesses. Each one of us could ask himself/herself today: “Have I ever experienced God’s love for me?” If so, we should be able to describe how it happened. For some, it might have been when they were saved from a road accident. For others, when they went to confession. For others, when they experienced a friend’s help in their sufferings.


“Some months back, a man who had been beaten up was picked up from the streets of Melbourne. He was an alcoholic who had been in that state for years. The Sisters took him to the Home of Compassion. From the way they touched him, the way they took care of him, suddenly it was clear to him: ‘God loves me.’ He left the Home and never touched alcohol again. He went back to his family, to his children, to his job. When he got his first salary, he came to the Sisters and gave them the money, saying: ‘I want you to be for others the love of God, as you have been to me.’”(Mother Teresa)


Love is always respectful and tender. Without respect, there is no love. There is only manipulation, especially when we are making use of others. Respect is shown in the way we speak of others in their absence. For some people, respect is something associated with a position or a role. They do not believe in treating their subordinates with respect. Moreover, respect is something we owe a person because he/she is a human being with innate rights. We have no right to insult others. Their reputation is a sacred reality. That is sadly lacking in many of us, especially in our Indian culture. The commanding tone used at times by priests and religious is not Christian.

Tenderness is what brings tears to our eyes as we meet people we love, or take leave of them, or hear of their pain. Sometimes tenderness makes you unable to speak. There are many people with whom you can discuss business, but there are fewer with whom you can relax, joke and laugh. There are even fewer with whom you feel free to weep.


Today, we could ask the Lord to teach us how to understand the language of the heart and respond to it in the same way.






















Hervé Morissette, csc