We bathe others when they are in need. Parents bathe their infants and toddlers because they are not able to do it for themselves. Nurses bathe patients when they are too sick to do it for themselves. Children bathe their parents when their parents are too frail or too forgetful. In all of these, the act of bathing another is a tender, loving and generous act. in addition to cleansing, bathing another deepens a relationship. Bathing another has layers of meaning and nowhere is this clearer than in our Gospel this Sunday.
Jesus is dining with a Pharisee and the Gospel makes it clear that his host had not provided the usual gesture of hospitality. And a “sinful woman in the city” seemingly without permission and with no fear of recrimination brings a flask of ointment as she approaches Jesus. One clear purposes [to anoint Jesus] apparently leads to an unplanned response! When she encounters Jesus she is moved to tears and in a humble act, bathes his feet with her tears and wipes his feet dry with her hair.
The Pharisee’s response is indignation. Was he concerned about the woman or embarrassed because he failed to provide the customary act of hospitality? Jesus, on the other hand, was able to see into the woman’s heart and forgive her. And he looks into the heart of the Pharisee and finds no love.
The deeper lesson here is how we see others, encounter them and respond to their needs with care.
When Jesus looks at the woman he sees her great love, her saving faith. The woman sees Jesus as the One whom she can love and who loves her in return.
What is really central in our Gospel today is an openness to others, accepting them for who they are and seeing into our hearts before we judge the heart of another.
What does Jesus see when he looks at us? What do we see when we look at one another?