On Fire with Love

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Today’s Gospel reading leaves me with some interesting questions. Why did a Pharisee, of all people, invite Jesus to dinner? Who was the woman who came into the house and poured the perfume over Jesus’ feet? Was she a slave, a servant, or a family member? I can’t picture her being just someone who burst in off the street so how was it that she came to be in the house? The Pharisee knew she was “a sinful woman” yet she was there. Whose “guest” was she? The Bible doesn’t tell us these tidbits. They aren’t deemed important to the point the story is trying to make.

Simon, the Pharisee, probably considered himself to be a righteous Jew. He knew all the rules and followed them scrupulously. Yet he felt a certain stirring within, perhaps a recognition that he needed something more. Not too much more, to be sure, for moderation in everything included the practice of his faith. Jesus could be a guest at his table – on occasion. He certainly wouldn’t go overboard and make it an everyday thing.

That’s the way I used to take my faith. I was a good Catholic in my mind. I went to Mass once a week, went to communion on a regular basis, and followed the Church’s guidelines. No one would consider me to be a fanatic about Catholicism, it wouldn’t be in good taste to present that appearance. But still I had a sense that something was missing, that I needed something more. Eventually I decided I needed to upgrade my education in the Faith. I thought it would help me with my Christian writing that I so enjoyed. To achieve this goal, I decided to become part of the Formation for Ministry program the Syracuse Diocese offers. They would pay my tuition, and in exchange, I would serve the parish for 3 years. This is called a Transactional experience.

I had figured without fully understanding how the Holy Spirit works in us. The Breath of God doesn’t conduct an exchange of goods, rather it changes us. It is transformational, not transactional. By allowing God to have his way with me, by listening to his message, I became somebody new – no, not new, but rather myself fulfilled. I don’t think I realized the full impact of this until last weekend, at the final retreat for Formation for Ministry. It was quite a rush.

It’s easy for me to picture the sinful woman in this manner. Like the Pharisee, she realized she needed something more, and sought Christ. Only she didn’t just invite him to Sunday dinner. She took his message of love into her heart completely, holding nothing back. Like the jar of precious perfume, she allowed herself to be broken open and poured out for His sake. Anyone who has been doused with perfume by a vendor in the mall will recognize that this kind of fanaticism isn’t often appreciated. But Christ did not draw back. He reached out to her with loving forgiveness. He recognized her transformation and loved her enthusiasm. In the eyes of God, moderation such as Simon’s is not to be compared to the zeal of the woman.

I asked, and now I have been transformed. I am filled with God’s fire. I know the world about me doesn’t appreciate seeing and hearing from a fanatic, but I cannot return to the moderation of a Pharisee. The Gospel brings out many questions. Which role do you choose – the Pharisee or the sinful woman who became a zealot?

Linda Crowley