Thursday September 16, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Corinthians 15:1-11) Gospel (St. Luke 7:36-50)
In the first reading, Saint Paul says to the Corinthians that he handed onto them as of first importance what he himself had received, that is, that Jesus died for sinners. That is the point of first importance in the message that we need to preach and that we need to understand. That is the purpose for which He did everything on Calvary. He died for sinners.
Now we look at this story with Saint Mary Magdalene coming in crying and washing the feet of Our Lord with her tears and wiping them with her hair, which has a profound meaning to it because in the ancient world they actually saved their tears. They had little tear vases, blue ones for tears of joy and red ones for tears of sorrow. They would put the little vase right up against their nose and underneath their eye on the cheek, and as they would cry the tears would simply go into the vase. They would put a cork on it, and only when the sorrow or sadness was gone would they pour the tears out. They believed that the tears contained the grief they were feeling, or the joy for those joyful tears. And so it was one thing to be able to understand that she was crying, but then we are told that she bathed His feet with her tears. That probably means she poured out the little vase full of tears that she had. Her grief was gone; she had found what it was that she was searching for and now there could be peace and joy in her heart.
And then her hair… At that time, because women actually dressed modestly, they thought that the most impressive thing to attract men was their hair. The longer and shinier their hair, the more attractive, shall we say, it would be. So for her to come in and wipe someone’s feet with her hair is to say, “I’m throwing this away.” Remember that not even a slave could be required to wash the master’s feet because that was considered to be beneath human dignity. And so her wiping the feet of Jesus, having been walking the streets of Jerusalem with all kinds of stuff all over His feet, is to say that she is taking what she has used to attract men and she is now going to wash the filth from the feet of Our Lord to be able to say, “What I have used I am now using for an entirely different purpose to show that this is no longer the way I am going to live my life.”
When we think about this story and we hear Our Lord saying that she is going to be more grateful because her sins which were great have been forgiven and the reason is because her love is great, each one of us can look at our own selves and say, “Well, what has the Lord forgiven me?” It should not take a whole lot of time for us to be able run up a tally and calculate exactly what has been forgiven. We realize that our sins are great, but we have been forgiven. Now the question is, “Is our love for Him great? Is our gratitude toward Him great?” Think of what we have done to Him with our sins. Our gratitude should be even far greater because our sins would have landed us in hell – and it is where we belong. But by His mercy, and only by His mercy, and of the first importance, we realize that our sins have been forgiven through His death. It is something that we just take for granted because we hear it all the time, but we cannot take it for granted when we realize what it is that He did for us. How grateful we must be and how much love for Him we have to have!
Look at the love He has for us. Look at the Cross and see His love and then ask yourself, “How much do I love Him?” Mary Magdalene was willing to stand at the foot of the Cross with Our Lady and Saint John. She did not go away from Him; she was willing to die with Him if that is what it was going to take. That was the love and gratitude she had. So too, we have to have the same kind of love and the same kind of gratitude because our sins are great. If we want them completely removed, our love needs to be great. His love already is and He is willing to take them all; the question is, “Do we love Him enough that we are willing to allow it, that we are willing to truly allow ourselves to be forgiven, to allow Him to take all our sins away?” That is the point of first importance, Saint Paul says, that Jesus Christ died for sinners. And we ourselves know that we are the worst. Each one of us can look at the Cross and say, “Lord, I have offended you more than anyone else in the world.” If that be the case, how grateful we must be for His love and for His death so that our sins could be forgiven.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.