Let Us Bring the Oil of Mercy

When someone has been hurt – either by another person, or through his/her own mistakes – it’s natural to try to offer comfort. “Don’t pour salt in the wound” is a clichéd expression, but it points toward a temptation for many of us. In our insecurity, jealousy and weakness, it canSalt be all too easy to secretly (if somewhat unconsciously) delight in another’s “wounds.” An honest look inside our hearts will likely turn up moments when we’ve impulsively grasped that salt shaker and seasoned the wound of an enemy…or a friend. We may not have shaken that salt directly on the wounds; but perhaps we passed the shaker around our “private table” and shared it with anyone who’d take it. Inevitably, any satisfaction we feel at our superiority before the wounded is short-lived, and the salt ends up stinging us, too.

Once a sinful woman poured salt on Jesus’ not-yet-wounded feet when she washed them with her tears. While Jesus dines at the home of a Pharisee named Simon, a woman enters the house and prostrates herself before Him. She washes His feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and then anoints them with ointment. Simon is appalled at the audacity of a public sinner – and a woman – bursting into his home and touching his guest. We have to wonder, though, if the Pharisee was upset over his perception that the Blessed Savior was being “assaulted”, or if the salt in the woman’s tears aggravated his own wounded pride.

You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. (Lk 7:45-46) Jesus chides Simon, not because He felt slighted as a guest, but because He desired Simon’s humble surrender to His love and mercy. Unlike the woman who burst in and, in an “unbecoming display”, crudely washed and anointed the Lord, Simon stubbornly clung to his status and his perceived knowledge of God and the Law. For Simon, legality, protocol and etiquette were essential to maintain. For the sinful woman, reaching out in desperate weakness and utter humility to seek the Lord’s mercy was as natural as taking a breath. Once she’d been convicted of whatever sins she’d been bound by, and convinced that Jesus offered mercy, no obstacle could keep her from receiving it. The salt in her tears and the perfumed ointment she liberally poured on Him prepared the Lord’s feet for the pilgrimage He would soon make toward His Passion and Crucifixion.

The second Sunday of Easter in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches commemorates the Holy Myrrh-Bearing Women. Like the woman who burst into Simon’s Myrrh Bearing Womenhouse, these women (who were His faithful followers) bathed Jesus’ path to Calvary with their tears. Although His hastily wrapped body could not be properly prepared for burial, the women knew they’d return to the tomb after the Sabbath. Then they would anoint the Lord with the sweet-smelling ointment that was their communication of mercy to Him. All four Evangelists tell what happened when the Holy Myrrh-Bearers made for the tomb to fulfill their duty. The accounts are similar, but the differences display the range of human emotion and the spiritual questions we all experience. Matthew and Luke tell us that when the women saw the empty tomb and heard the angel announce the Lord’s resurrection they were frightened – yet they ran to the Apostles and told them what they’d seen. Mark says the women were “seized with trembling and bewilderment,” and left the tomb without telling anyone what they witnessed. Finally, John has only Mary Magdalene – the woman from whom seven demons had been cast out – finding the empty tomb and immediately running to inform Peter and the other Apostles.

Each account of the women discovering the empty tomb should resonate in our hearts. Hopefully we seek Him out of love, but sometimes it’s out of sheer duty (fulfilling my Sunday “obligation,” or “following the rules” of the Church.) We look for the Lord in difficult times, to be rid of whatever “demons” haunt us, yet sometimes we feel like He’s not there, as if He’s vacated our lives just as surely as He did the tomb. We fear the unknown, what God might be calling us to do…or to endure. We stay quiet; quiet before God (slacking in our prayer life, forgetting Him in our everyday busyness), and quiet before others (focusing only on ourselves). Instead, we must go after the Lord like the Women, with an urgency that is not born of duty but of love. In our fear and woundedness, standing before the mystery of life and wondering how God is operative in it, we must seek Him.

The “salt” of our sins and our suffering are poured into the wounds of Jesus, and He freely accepts it. Pope Francis says Jesus retains His wounds in heaven as a means of absorbing our sins and transforming them into mercy and forgiveness. When we pour out the “salt” of our sins and whatever baggage we carry into Jesus’ wounds, we become myrrh-bearers too. Surrendering to God’s forgiveness and embracing His love “anoints” Jesus’ wounds and become our humble “mercy offering.” Jesus accepts our offering just as He accepted the anointing from the sinful woman. But in accepting our “mercy” He asks us to put down the salt shakers and become myrrh-bearers (love-bearers) to the world.

‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Mt. 25:40

Ann Koshute teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

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