Consummate Love

By Michael Fitzpatrick

A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 7:36-50

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and when he went into the Pharisee’s house he reclined to dine. 37 And a woman in the city who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair, kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Meditation

How do we see our savior’s love? Is it like the love of a friend, or a genteel uncle? Or is it something more intimate, more consummate, even physically nourishing? Can we permit ourselves to imagine this possibility? We cannot avoid it, for St. Paul implies this very thing when he says that the consummation of marriage is the image of Christ’s love for his bride, the Church.

Consider the woman who washes Jesus’ feet. Her body pours out tears that fall on the feet of Jesus. So precious is his body to her, she kneels to dry his feet with her hair, a capacious gesture of wasteful love and gratitude. She then takes her costly jar of perfume and scents his feet with it. These are profoundly intimate acts, and most homilies I’ve heard sanitize this story, abstracting her actions into a parable about forgiveness without dwelling on the raw physicality of what she is doing.

Jesus has no such qualms. He luxuriates over every detail of her action, even emphasizing that she “has not stopped kissing” his feet. Being with Jesus for her meant kissing the feet of her Lord. As Jesus makes clear, all her actions flow out of her great love for him. She, unlike those who have been forgiven little, loves much.

Let us not sanitize this story but hold it in all its physical detail. As we contemplate the mystery of being the bride of Christ, may we trust the great love of this woman and her courage to caress and kiss her Lord to bring us into deeper, more intimate fellowship with he who gave his life out of his great love for us.

Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, California, where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.

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Today we pray for:

Episcopal Church of St. Alban the Martyr, Queens, New York
The Diocese of Nairobi – The Anglican Church of Kenya

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