Year C, Pentecost 4
Most of you are aware that my husband and I have a new addition to our family. We have been in the adoption process for over 2 years. However, a few months ago we got a call that there was an emergency placement and we had 1 day to get to the hospital where this baby was born (which was about day’s journey). There was not a lot of time to prepare of even to think through things. The birth mother had chosen us that day. We knew very little about her or the baby who awaited us. In truth, the birth mother was just a name on a sheet of paper. While we certainly felt a level of gratitude to her, it was nothing particularly overwhelming. Then we met Joshua. We saw this tiny and perfect baby and we were both overwhelmed with gratitude, not just to God, but to this woman who carried him in her body for 9 months.
One of the small pieces of information we had about her was why she decided to choose adoption. She wrote that she could not raise him and she wanted to “bless another family.” Those were the words that she wrote on the form we read. That was why she chose adoption. At first she did not want to meet us. Then at the very last minute she changed her mind. It was probably good that it was the last minute or I imagine I would have gone crazy worrying about what to say and what to do. Instead, we had about two minutes to consider our words. We walked in and she smiled this huge smile and hugged us. We thanked her profusely, but we were very aware of how inadequate those thank yous were. She said that it was a blessed day because we were the people who were meant to raise this baby and she felt joy because of it. We promised her he would be beloved by many and that we would spend the rest of our lives loving him. Then with tears in our eyes we said good bye.
I thought of that moment when I read the Gospel for today. The story is about a woman who was overcome with emotion. We know that she was a sinner because Jesus refers to her many sins. Some people believe that Jesus forgave her because she showered him with her tears and anointed him with oil. She honored him in ways that displayed her love. However, many people (myself included) believe that her outpouring of love was a result of the forgiveness she had already received. In other words, she had already met Jesus. She had already been forgiven and this was her way of showing gratitude for this forgiveness.
If she went in weighed down by sins, begging for forgiveness, I think things would have happened differently. She would have been tentative and unsure of herself. She might have washed his feet, but not with her tears. She had oil with her and that was not an uncommon way to honor people, but it was usually placed on the head, not the feet. But her actions, washing his feet with her tears, drying them with her hair—these seem unplanned, unchoreographed. I am sure there are some people who can cry on demand, but I doubt that’s what happened. She was simply overwhelmed with gratitude. For years she had been weighed down with sin.
Given the critical reaction of the Pharisee, people knew that she was a sinner. However, because of Jesus, she was free. Obviously most people did not realize she had been forgiven. They did not accept that Jesus could free her of these sins. But for her, it was not about what other people thought. She knew that she had been forgiven and she knew the person who had changed her life forever. Perhaps she had a little speech prepared. She was going to go in this house full of respectable people and carry her head high. With respect and decorum, she would thank Jesus, anoint his head and then quietly slip out. Then she saw him and she was so overcome, she dropped to her knees and wept. There were no words that were adequate for the grace and love that she experienced. Her tears were so numerous that they washed his feet. When she realized that she was soaking the feet of the man who had saved her, she dried them with her hair because she didn’t have a towel. Every part of her mind, body and soul was dedicated to this display of love and gratitude. Jesus was so moved that he pronounced forgiveness again so that everyone would hear. Then he commended her on her faith in front of the pillars of the faith.
For a long time, I thought I deserved to have a baby. I thought this is the natural order of things. You get married, you have kids. This is what you do. Everyone around me was getting pregnant. I was praying–my whole family was praying. Despite the fact that I had competent doctors and a supportive husband, my prayers were not answered in the way that I thought they should have been answered. While my priest mind knew that nothing is really fair in life—that we should be grateful for what we have—that I already had more than I deserved, I could not get past this feeling that life was unfair, that I was being deprived of something that I deserved. Yet in that hospital, looking at the mother who placed her child in my arms because she wanted to bless me, I realized that this was more than I deserved. This was love and there was nothing I could say, nothing I could do to properly express the gratitude that she deserved and that God deserved.
For the first time in my life, I understand what this woman felt. I even understand what Simon the Pharisee felt to some degree. He went through life expecting things. He didn’t think he needed forgiveness. He had been good his whole like. He was the one who showed other people how to pray and how to worship. Because of that he could not appreciate this woman’s dramatic display of love.
I have been the Pharisee in that I have not fully appreciated the grace and love that I have been given. I thought I had earned things fair and square. I am sure that I will continue experiencing elements of the Pharisee’s entitlement and the woman’s gratitude. I wish that I could have learned this lesson without receiving this amazing miracle. But I guess that’s not the point. The point is that when we do find ourselves receiving these expected and unexpected miracles, we remember who deserves our thanks and praise, and we remember that every day.
Most of us see our lives through a lens of scarcity. We see what we do not have and what we deserve to have. Instead, perhaps we could consider those little miracles and gifts that we receive every day—those things we barely notice. Then when we identify those things or those people, we allow ourselves to gush a little. I pray that we can all find that raw place in our lives that gushes with gratitude—the kind of gratitude that leaves polite people uncomfortable.