Linda L. Baratte, Ph.D.
Do you remember the tradition of signing yearbooks on the last day of high school each year? My own tributes and testimonials from friends and faculty followed a pretty predictable pattern: “To a really sweet friend;” “To a really lovely young woman;” “To a really nice girl.” These were, on their face, feel-good salutations then (and now!). But part of my lifelong maturity into adulthood has required me to move beyond the label of mere sweetness and goodness, giving myself permission to speak more boldly, to risk disappointing or angering others as I found my own voice and responded to the Spirit working within me –to not just keep the peace but to engage with courage in the hard work of making peace.
The unnamed woman in our tender and poignant Gospel story today — the one who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints them with fragrant oil — has her own label. She is ‘well known in that town,’ she is a ‘sinner’ with enough money to buy an alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. It doesn’t take too much imagination to tumble to what kind of sin we are talking about here. To our astonishment, acting boldly, she moves beyond her label, pushing through all cultural expectations and norms (no invitation to the party, no entry into the dining area, surely no touching of a man) in a generous act of radical love and hospitality. We yearn to know her back story. Where had this courage come from? How had her life already intersected with Jesus? Somehow she has been seen by him not as an object (not as host Simon the Pharisee views her) but as a subject of her own experience. She gives herself freely and fully to a moment of fearless intimacy. Her faith finds her with a new label: “forgiven.”
It is interesting to note the verses in Luke’s Gospel that immediately follow the encounter– the opening of Chapter 8, where we find Jesus responding to this act of love by an unnamed woman with a new burst of activity, journeying from one village and town to another, preaching and proclaiming the Good News.
Accompanying Jesus are The Twelve and women, this time named Mary, called Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna and other women who surrendered their dowries to provide support for this itinerant preacher. What labels and cultural constraints must they have put aside to take this bold leap of faith, a faith that would eventually find them both at the cross and witnesses to the resurrection?
Linda is a presenter for Days of Reflection at Loyola Jesuit Center; in addition, she chairs the Mission Committee on the Loyola Board of Directors.