Time Well Wasted by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner." Jesus said to him in reply, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Tell me, teacher," he said. "Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days' wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?" Simon said in reply, "The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven." He said to him, "You have judged rightly."
Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 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. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little forgiven, loves little." He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." The others at table said to themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" But he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Suppose someone suggested ending ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown solder at Arlington National Cemetery. After all, he would argue, it is a waste of manpower and resources. Those soldiers could be put to better use somewhere else. And, for the sake of argument, suppose this person also advocated an end to full military honors funerals. Think of all the marines and soldiers employed on such elaborate occasions - not to mention the money spent on flags, horses, caissons, etc. it is extravagant. Wasteful.
Now, such a suggestion would strike us as impious. We immediately sense that the resources and manpower expended on such ceremonies are not 'wasted' at all. Granted, they bring no material or financial benefit to us and do nothing for the fallen soldiers. But they are necessary for us on a deeper level than money and possessions can gauge. We lose something essential to our humanity if we fail to honor the fallen. It is not an extravagance but a necessary expression of who we are as a nation. Fallen soldiers do not need to receive the honors as much as we need to give them. By such "waste" we become better people - the kind of people who expend resources, time and energy to honor those who sacrifice for us. Without such a 'waste' we would be diminished.
This secular example helps explain the extravagance of the 'sinful woman' - who bathes Jesus' feet with her tears, dries them with her hair and anoints them with costly oil. (Lk 7:37-38) All to express her sorrow for sin and her faith in Christ. "What a waste," we might be tempted to say (as Judas says at a similar event cf (Jn 12:1-8). Could she not have just spoken to Him plainly? Other people in the Gospel appeal to Our Lord with simple words. Why could not she? Why such an elaborate display? Did Jesus really need all that?
Like a full military honors funeral, her extravagance is necessary not so much for the recipient but for the giver. She "wasted" her tears and oil not because Our Lord needed to receive them but because she needed to give them. She had a deeper need to do this than money or possessions can gauge. The human heart sought to express itself in precisely such "wasteful" gestures - which in effect say that our love exceeds worldly calculations. A husband might "waste" money on roses for his wife. She probably does not complain.
This helps us to understand one of the wasteful events: the liturgy. By the world's standards, there is a great deal wasted in the Mass. Our churches are well lit, so why the need for candles? Our Lord was content with a manger, so why the fancy vessels? Why the vestments, the incense, the music? Strictly speaking, the Mass requires only bread, wine and a priest.
True, Our Lord does not need all this adornment in the liturgy. But we need to give it. Without such a "waste" we would be diminished. We have a natural tendency to adorn what we love. If we fail to adorn it, we will soon stop loving it. This is precisely what has happened to the Mass in many places. Robbed of its adornment, it appears ordinary, unimportant. If it is not worth adorning, how could it be worth attending? But no one will mistake the importance of Our Lord to this sinful woman - precisely because she was willing to "waste" on Him.
Most of all should the woman in this Gospel passage point us to the importance of "wasting" time in personal prayer. In the world's estimation, time in prayer is a poor investment. It is an escape from the "real world." In fact, the devout heart should seek to "waste" such time in prayer. It is yet another pouring out of tears and oil to give praise to Our Lord. It is an extravagance that we cannot do without - another way of expressing a love that exceeds material and financial calculations. If wasted, it is time well wasted.
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