We have just finished, in the liturgical life of the Church, a long season of celebration. Throughout the seven weeks of the Easter Season we celebrated the resurrection of Christ, right up until the Feast of Pentecost. These past two weekends we have explored two of the greatest mysteries of our faith: God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit on Trinity Sunday, and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist on the Feast of Corpus Christi.
This weekend, for the first Sunday since last February, we come together to celebrate "Ordinary Time." That designation—Ordinary Time—can be a bit misleading. Certainly there is nothing ordinary about the mysteries we celebrate here. There is nothing ordinary in the Gospel we listen to; nothing ordinary about the body and blood of Christ and the sacramental life that we enter more deeply into each week.
On this Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, St. Luke reminds us of that extraordinary love we find so abundantly in the forgiveness and mercy of God. For these next five months of “Ordinary Time,” we will be hearing from the Gospel of St. Luke. That Gospel, more than all the other three says Pope John Paul II, has earned the title “Gospel of Mercy” (Dives in Misericordia, # 3). Why is that?
St. Luke is careful to include several parables and details of the life of Christ that are not found in the other gospel accounts, all of them focused on the abundant mercy of God.
Only St. Luke gives us Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, that moving story of the young man who comes home ragged and ruined, deserving nothing, only to be welcomed lovingly with open arms by a Father whose love knows no limits.
Only St. Luke includes the parable of the Good Samaritan, that outsider who becomes a true neighbor to the Israelite who had fallen into the hands of robbers, giving generously from his own resources to restore that Israelite to health once again.
And only St. Luke tells us the story of the Good Thief, who dies on the cross beside Christ. Acknowledging the Kingship of Christ and expressing faith in Jesus, despite his own unworthiness, he receives the greatest promise attainable in this life: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
In our “Gospel of Mercy” today, St. Luke tells us the story of the sinful woman with the alabaster jar (Luke 7:36-50). It is one of the most visual, sense-heavy gospel accounts we have. You can almost picture yourself there in the house of Simon the Pharisee. You can see that woman kneeling before Christ. You can hear her sobbing and weeping as she wipes His feet with her hair. You can smell the ointment that is in that room.
That powerful scene fits well the image of mercy that John Paul II offers in his encyclical, Rich in Mercy (Dives in Misericordia). He describes how true love, real mercy is effective; it has effects in the world we live in. Those effects are revealed, Pope John Paul II says, in two very specific and concrete ways.
Firstly, we see the mercy of God as it is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ Himself:
"Especially through His lifestyle and through His actions, Jesus revealed that love is present in the world in which we live—an effective love, a love that addresses itself to man and embraces everything that makes up his humanity."
—Dives in Misericordia, #3
In the Letters of St. Paul, God is described as “the Father of mercies” (2 Corinthians 1:3) and the “God who is rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). We would have no way of grasping what that means if it were not for Christ. When we look to Christ and see His love, His forgiveness of sinners, His willingness to give His very life for us on the cross, then we come to recognize the effects of God’s mercy.
But the effects of mercy cannot remain there. Mercy is not just an image of the cross or a story that remains on the pages of the Bible. We should also see the effects of God’s mercy in our own lives. Christ “demanded from people that they also should be guided in their lives by love and mercy” (Dives in Misericordia, #3). Having received so great a gift as God’s merciful and forgiving love, we should be able to then see its effects expressed in ways that others around us can recognize and experience.
Which brings us back to our Gospel and the woman with the alabaster jar. No one in that room could have doubted that she had been touched by the merciful love of Christ. Whether they liked it or not (as was the case with Simon, the Pharisee), they could never deny that the mercy of Christ effected that woman. Do we allow ourselves to be so effected by that same mercy?
In these next five months of “Ordinary Time”, how is God calling each of us to celebrate His extraordinary love, His extraordinary mercy in our own lives?
How are we called to first acknowledge and receive the mercy of God? To acknowledge our faults and sins and our own need for God’ mercy, seeking His forgiveness and being open to the way His mercy is lavished upon us through Christ? How are we called especially to receive and celebrate that great mercy by receiving the sacrament of mercy, the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
And finally, where do we ourselves need to express that same mercy in the world we live in? Where are the places that God is calling upon us to break open those alabaster jars and pour out more freely the ointment of mercy in our families, workplaces, and wherever we find ourselves?
Today we ask God for all the oil we can hold in our alabaster jar, and for His help and assistance to break that jar open, and pour it out everywhere in the world we live in.