Today’s Gospel reading is one of my favorites — the story of the “sinful woman” and her loving tribute to Christ. When the woman is criticized for her extravagence and impropriety, the Lord defends her:
“I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven
because she has shown great love.
But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
This mystery woman is unnamed in Luke’s Gospel, but in John’s Gospel (chapter 11), the apostle relates a similar occurance involving the sisters of Bethany:
“Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil
and dried his feet with her hair;
it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.”
The story of this family has always intrigued me. So often Mary and Martha are turned into spiritual stereotypes (Mary is the “mystical” one, Martha the poster child for practical service). But when I read the story, I see altogether different themes: I see an older sister who is left to tend to the needs of her younger siblings (according to tradition Lazarus was significantly younger than his sisters), whose life is a story of a woman whose own desires and hopes are sacrificed for the good of her family. I see a younger sister who is unable to share the burden, or even to care for herself — perhaps because she has some kind of developmental disability.
In other words, Mary’s are not the actions of a sinful woman … but a simple one, totally oblivious to the social implications of what she was doing. No doubt her sister understood all too well — and felt the full sting of the “guilt by association.”
This kind of social guilt is all too familiar to “Extraordinary Families,” particularly those who have a member with emotional or mental impairments. The tantrums and outbursts, the inappropriate responses, the impulsiveness … All these things can greatly contribute to the daily stressors.
And so, the Lord’s observations pour out a healing balm upon us as well. Those who learn to love much, who pour out their lives in daily libation to “the least of these,” have a special place in the heart of God.
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