Sunday, June 12, 2016

Upper Room Inclusive Catholic Community, Albany, NY - Liturgy of The Woman at the Table of Embracing Love – June 12, 2016

Introduction: Kim Panaro, ARCWP
The Upper Room Community began liturgy with a moment of prayerful solidarity for the victims of the shootings in Orlando and all those family and friends affected by this act of terrorism. We prayed that it would inspire an increase in love and compassion in our hearts and not lead others to Islamophobia and prejudice. 

The theme for today’s liturgy is the “Woman With the Alabaster Jar.” It is a celebration of the love that she experienced which led to the tears that washed Jesus' feet. The healing, loving relationship, between Jesus and the woman who comes to him stands in opposition to the legalism of the Pharisee in whose home they are.

Our gospel is the good news of the rule of love as the only requirement. A deeply felt awareness of and gratitude for God's infinite love and gifts launches us into a desire to help others know that love through our presence to them.   We blessed our own alabaster jars with scented oils. We pray that we will become the alabaster jars, broken open to share the love and presence of God with others represented by the fragrance of the oils. 

Homily starter by Dave DeBonis
In Antioch, where the church community, which was made up of both Jewish and Gentile Christians, was integrated, Peter ate with Gentile Christians which was taken as a symbol of the union and equality of these two groups in the Church. (

But at some point-- and possibly to avoid alienating non-Christian Jews-- Peter stopped doing this and encouraged separation between the two groups. At the time, Jews who socialized with Gentiles received harsh treatment.  Paul viewed Peter’s accommodation to the non-Christian Jews as unacceptable and saw him compromising the truth of the gospel which was about “unity in Christ with all believers of every race and which transcends the racial and social divisions in the world.”(  

Paul is explicitly saying that “observance of these distinctively Jewish practices related to food, circumcision, and the Sabbath (referred to in the first reading as “works of the law”) is no longer the basis for membership in the covenant people of God and that this is now accomplished by faith and living the Gospel message.”
(  The gospel, then, had essentially destroyed such distinctions between peoples. One commentator writes that allowing a regulation to prevent one from eating with a brother or sister in Christ is breaking God’s law in a much more serious way because it violates the will of God as revealed in Jesus”(Duncan, as cited in (

The gospel reading is also about abiding by a higher law. In the gospel reading, we see Jesus being invited to have dinner with a Pharisee. The Pharisees were a close knit group of law-keepers.  They set the standards to which everyone had to adhere and those standards were based on judging others and self-righteousness. At this point the Pharisees had already decided that Jesus was a blasphemer and an outcast because of his message and his own willingness to associate with outcasts and Jesus was invited to dinner by the Pharisee in the hopes of collecting more evidence against him. Jesus most likely saw this invitation as an opportunity to shake things up because he, of course, was about a new set of laws based on love.  And you thought your family dinners were awkward!  

It was very common for such meals to take place either in the open or in a building with the doors opened so that the public could enter and listen to the conversation about theological and societal issues of the time.  But what was not expected was for a prostitute to enter the home of the Pharisee.  She would clearly not have been welcome. She approaches the feet of Jesus and because she already knows who he is and she also knows that that his acceptance and love for her has already changed her—her guilt and shame are gone and she now longs for a different life. Because of this as one commentator notes, she is overcome with “a non-self-conscious shameless emotion of gratitude and affection for Jesus.” Her uncontrolled tears are used to wash his feet, and her hair to dry them.  ( and 7%3A36-50

The Pharisee concludes from this interaction that Jesus could not be a prophet because if that was true he would know what kind of woman this was and would not allow her to touch him. But as one commentator notes, Jesus makes it clear that he is not abiding by the old laws about sin and death but rather about showing people that they are human beings who are valued by God and that God’s transformative love will change them from within. ( 7%3A36-50)

In reflecting on these themes of laws, regulations and the gospel, I thought it appropriate to note just a few of the many people who refused to abide by man-made laws, acted instead in keeping with the gospel message, and in so doing brought light to the world. People like Joan of Arc who acted on her belief that she had a divine mission to free France of English forces. She was burned at the stake. Susan B. Anthony,  who voted in 1872 even though it was not legal for women to do so. Her work led to the nineteenth amendment of the constitution in 1920.  Gandhi, whose non-violent resistance for India’s independence led to his arrest several times and his assassination in 1948.   Nelson Mandela, whose refusal to accept apartheid in South Africa resulted in a 27 year prison term. Rosa Parks, whose 1955 refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger led to the Supreme Court ban on segregation on public transportation. Martin Luther King Jr., whose work facilitated the end of legal segregation and led to his arrest and eventual assassination in 1968. Aung San Suu Kyi who spent 15 years under house arrest for promoting peaceful resistance against the military-ruled Burma.  Daniel Berrigan, who played a major role in inspiring the antiwar movement during the late 1960s. Sister Megan Rice, an octogenarian nun who in 2012 broke into a nuclear weapons complex in Tennessee and was sentenced to 35 months in prison.

Of course not all of us are destined to be law breakers but we have all been commissioned to live out the gospel message as fully as we can even in those places where the customs and practices do not welcome it. Each of us can push back against the prevailing attitudes and conventions in our families, at work, in our daily lives, when those attitudes and conventions are incongruent with the gospel.  Each of us can push back against the tendency to judge and apply divisive labels. And each of us can demonstrate gratitude that we are so completely loved and allow this love to transform us and others.  In so doing, we will have achieved what O’Murchu  (2008) calls a conversion far in excess of what any religion could require.

Simon, Can You See?
By Diarmuid O’Murchu

Can you see this person standing here, a woman of full truth
With the elegance of womanhood, richly feminine imbued?
With the beauty of her passion, erotic to the core
And the birthing-power within her inviting to explore!
Simon, can you see? Can you see? Can you see?

Can you see the tears of centuries of patriarchal woe
And the courage it must take her for integrity of soul?
Can you see the waves of flowing hair with which she wiped my feet
And the kisses of her intimacy, making healing so replete?
Simon, can you see?…

Can you see her hospitality, her warmth, her embrace;
Her ability for birthing as a mother to each race?
A living icon of the ages, the Goddess we long have known,
Maligned and desecrated by the dogmas YOU have sown!
Simon, can you see?…

Can you see her jar of ointment, anointing to empower
Those excluded by oppression, overwhelmed and weighed down?
Can you see her gracious pouring out, abundant as of yore
While you stand there in judgment, a pontificating bore!
Simon, can you see?…

Her eyes though filled with weeping tears are contemplating clear.
She can see right through the lot of us, our judgments and our fear. Remember Holy Wisdom—she embodies it anew
And she radiates sheer goodness for creation to imbue!

She has known the ups and downs of life, the sinful and the free.
And forgiven much, she's loving much—for empowering liberty.
The system can't contain her and the freedom she proclaims,
She's a living revelation where love and justice reigns.
Simon, can you see?…

Long after we have run our course and echoes fade in time
Her name will be invoked afresh in Scripture and in rhyme.
And the alabaster jar she holds will replenish many souls,
And where the Gospel is proclaimed, her fame will be disclosed.
And, then, Simon, you might see; I hope you will see!
From Inclusivity by Diarmuid O’Murchu, p. 150

Photos by Mary Theresa Streck, ARCWP

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