The Gospel from yesterday morning, the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, (Luke 7:36-8:3) has a very pertinent application to the liturgical life of the Church. The sinning woman in the gospel brings an expensive alabaster jar filled with ointment (costly perfumed oil in Matthew, or “spikenard” as Mark). She washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and anoints them. In the three other accounts of this gospel, the disciples become indignant and say this is a waste, even mentioning that it is worth 300 days’ wages (that’s almost a year! What, like, $30,000 or more today?). Why spend this nice oil washing some dirty feet? Wouldn’t it be better to sell the oil and give the money to the poor? Jesus tells them to leave her alone, that she has done a good thing, and forgives her sins. He also adds, “The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me.” (Mt. 26:11)
What does this mean for us in the celebration of the Liturgy? Many ask, “Why doesn’t the Church sell everything and give the money to the poor?” What Jesus could be saying is even if you sell this stuff and feed people for a day, a week, a month… you will still have the poor. Then what? How do you feed them after that? Thankfully we DO still have Jesus with us in the Eucharist. We honor him with what we have to give, and he can feed us for an eternity. The use of “nice things” in the Liturgy does not mean the Church is against giving to the poor. For centuries, even the poorest have given what they could to the Church to honor God. That is why we use vessels made of precious metal – Jesus is the Christ, our King, and we would give the best we have to honor him if we truly believe that! The beautiful celebration of the Liturgy is not at odds with caring for and serving others. We come to the Eucharist to be nourished ourselves before we can go out and feed others. However, the Liturgy is not about “getting” – it is not about just coming to get fed so we can go out, it is about giving of ourselves to glorify God. Blessed Theresa of Calcutta is one example of a total servant who recognized the importance of being nourished herself by the gift of Christ present in the Eucharist and giving glory to God, which then enables us to go out and serve him more faithfully.
More on this next time, as this gospel is so rich: it has great connections to the Old Testament and to the Sacraments of the Church! In the meantime, reflect on what you give to honor God. It doesn’t have to be money. Have you ever done anything for Christ as extravagant as this woman? What do you give in your own way?