“One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.”
As Holy Week draws closer and closer, I am finding myself more and more overwhelmed. It seems like projects, lab reports, presentations, and a sermon have all decided to converge within the same two-week period. Add that to an exam and an upcoming housing deadline, and it comes as no surprise that I feel, to be frank, washed out. Ironically, that last part happens to be the theme for the Maundy Thursday service next week. Not the burden of persistent, unyielding fatigue, I should say, but washing.
While I can’t give away all of the details yet, the readings for the service reminded me of the passage from Luke above. It evokes such a powerful image, in both its language and its meaning. In all of its beauty, it also leaves me with numerous questions. Why is the woman weeping? Is it out of sorrow, or is it out of joy at being able to see Jesus? Why did she bring and pour the perfume? And then there is a phrase that I can’t quite parse out: “She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears.” I have difficulty visualizing where they are standing, or how this scene is even possible. The lines of physical reality seem to blur, which makes the image intensely beautiful.
What she does, though, is striking. She washes Jesus’ feet with her own tears, and wipes them with her own hair. I cannot think of many actions that show such humility. The next thing she does makes the image even more remarkable. She kisses them the feet and pours out oil over them. Normally I would expect these intimate gestures to be reserved for the head. Yet she does them to the feet, the lowest part of the body. For they are on the ground, tying us to the earth and the dirt that composes it.
These are only a few of the elements in this passage that make it so unusual. It bends my traditional associations in its gestures, and its language washes out the boundaries of what is possible. In the end, her act of washing Jesus’ feet is also a gesture of forgiveness. Later in the passage, Jesus says the following: “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:44-47). Her tears wash not only his feet, but her own sins as well.
I’m not sure how the next few days will turn out. The lines between what is work, what is school, what is rest, and how I fit into all of that feel like they are starting to blur. There have been times this week where I almost felt like I was drowning in anxiety. But when I think of all I have to do, and all that I will do, I find reassurance in these verses. They tell me that even amid all of the confusion, the ambiguity, and the uncertainty, there is hope for renewal. There is hope for washing the anxiety away, and not being washed out by it.