The Jar of Precious Treasure
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
[2 Sm 12:7-10, 13. Ps 32:1-2, 5, 7, 11. Gal 2:16, 19-21. Lk 7:36-8:3.]
Today we hear Luke’s beautiful story of the power of forgiveness and love, and the story has actually been prepared for us today by all of the readings:
In Second Samuel, King David is brought to see his sinfulness, and when he declares that sinfulness, he is told that God has forgiven him.
The Responsorial Psalm sings of the joy of the person who confesses fault to the Lord and receives forgiveness.
And Paul tells us in the reading from Galatians of the power of faith in God – a justification that comes to the believer apart from works of the Mosaic law.
Justification that is God’s gracious gift.
All of these prepare and help us to understand something of Luke’s beautiful Gospel story.
In all four Gospels there is a story about a woman who anoints Jesus with oil. Each time someone rebukes the woman. And in all four gospels, the woman says nothing; she never speaks back – she is an “object”—people talk about her, and they judge her.
But Luke’s report tells us more – he tells us what she accomplishes in silence – without words.
And that silence calls to us over the centuries. It yells at us: see what power there is in a pure heart – see what Jesus can do with those who come to Him in freedom.
So, what about this woman in the Gospel? “She is a sinner,” they say. Luke's Gospel specifically calls her a “sinful woman,” and that brings to mind all kinds of speculation – what was her sin?
We are never told, but it is one of those things that invites us to “fill in the blanks,” so to speak.
Yet, it is important for us today – it is imperative for us today, not to fill in those blanks – not to judge this women beyond what Luke tells us.
We simply don’t know what she has done. But whatever that was, it was something that was known: The Pharisee who was Jesus’ host at dinner knew about it. Listen to what he says to himself:
“If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him,
that she is a sinner.”
And did Jesus know? I think: of course! We have so many instances in the Gospels where Jesus touches sinners young and old, rich or poor, man or woman. Jesus never hinders them from coming to Him.
Too often, I think, we hear this story and gospel stories like it, and we only think about the moment of the gospel encounter. But maybe we should wonder a few things:
Who was this woman?
What was her life like?
Who or what caused the occasion – or occasions – of sin?
Was she a victim of circumstance? A victim of her own powerlessness in a society that hardly upheld the rights and dignity of women? Women were considered as property back then.
Maybe…. And maybe it was just this kind of background that led the woman to think that she had to come to Jesus that night. That He would understand. That He was her last hope.
Had this woman seen Jesus before? Perhaps… Jesus was very much in the public eye by the time of this dinner.
She could well have been in the crowd when he gave the beatitudes:
How blessed are the poor in spirit.
How blessed are you who are weeping…. Jesus says.
The poor, the sick, the sinner, the misunderstood and the marginalized… Jesus had turned the world upside down in favor of the lowly!
Had this woman heard these words? Had Jesus brought her hope?
Had His eyes met hers somewhere on the road? Had his glance – just a moment’s meeting of the eyes, told her: “You don’t have to live like this.”
Had Jesus spoken heart to heart to her in silence?
We don’t know.
We do know that she wasn’t invited to the party, it is safe to say. We don’t even know how she got into the dinner.
But something must have told her, something must have drawn her to seek out the Lord in that time and place.
And she came with gifts.
The gifts of precious treasure in that alabaster jar.
That alabaster jar – we all have one – a vessel that we use to store up our precious treasures. And I don’t mean material treasures.
I mean the treasures of hearts that beat not alone, but in relationship to all those we encounter: hearts that beat like parents; like sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends – and enemies.
Hearts that beat right along with those things and persons who have hurt us, and who we have hurt. With those who cause us sadness – and who we have caused sadness.
This treasure in our alabaster jars is the oil of our lives.
And now this sinful woman comes and she reaches out to Jesus.
And the weight of her sin, the weight of her sorrow, the weight of her shame – all these weigh her down.
She is so far down, that when she reaches up for Jesus, she reaches up only to His feet!
And yet she works within her reach.
And what does she offer Jesus? The gift of her tears – tears from eyes that stream the sorrow of a humble heart.
The gift of her hair – she dries his feet with her own hair.
And her costly perfumed oil – the treasure of her very life she pours out at Jesus’ feet in silence.
Jesus turns, and speaks to her. He tells her that her sin is forgiven – that her faith has saved her.
Faith – that is what has saved her!...
And now she rises and walks in the new dignity of a daughter of God.
Maybe she sang softly to herself as she went from the Psalms: “You are my shelter; from distress you will preserve me; with glad cries of freedom you will ring me round.”
But we don't know that, either. The Gospel never tells us that. It only gives us the silence of her action.
We hear at the end of today’s Gospel that Jesus continues on His journey from one town to another, and that his disciples accompany him.
And also, the Gospel is certain to tell us that some women are with Him. Luke even names three of them:
Mary Magdeline, Joanna, and Susanna….
and, this is important for us today: “many others…”
Could this now forgiven silent woman one be one of the nameless ones in the group that travelled with Jesus? Or did she simply go in the peace that Jesus had granted her and try to make new life where she was?
We don’t know, but part of our prayer in meditating on this Gospel can be in wondering about this woman – and the life that brought her to Jesus’ feet.
The life that was transformed in her encounter. And the new life that Jesus has granted her – that gracious gift he may grant to us, too.
The Gospel today teaches us that we don’t necessarily need words…
It tells us that the treasures we have are nothing if they are not poured out in love.
It tells us that the powers and the oppressions of the world are as nothing before the mercy and love of Jesus, who loved us first.
It tells us not to be fearful, even if we are so bogged down that when we reach up to Jesus, we can only reach for His feet.
Today’s Gospel tells us to come to Him. We can bring him our faith, our sorrow, our humble contrition.
We all in need to know that we, too, can cry at the feet of Jesus.
And when we look up, we, too, can hope to see Him smiling at us and hope to hear His words – words that I am certain gave such great joy to the silent woman’s heart:
“Your faith has saved you.”