Readings: 1 Timothy 4:12-16; Psalm 111; Luke 7:36-50
Today we meet two people who are likely to be treated with contempt, Timothy in the first reading because he is young, and the woman in the gospel reading because as well as being a woman she is also well-known as a sinner.
It seems that she was what we would call today a sex worker. It does not say this in as many words but the implication is clear enough. She may of course have been notorious for running a dodgy business, for cheating people and being unjust. She may have been a gossip, stirring up trouble and setting people against each other. She may have been a thief. But it seems more likely, from the Pharisee's reaction to her sensual treatment of Jesus, that her reputation as a sinner had something to do with prostitution.
Jesus was known and talked about in the circles in which she moved and so she knew where to find him. She says nothing, but immediately occupies herself with washing and anointing his feet. In the Old Testament there are many occasions in which God touches people but nowhere do we hear of anybody touching God. In fact it was dangerous, even fatal, to touch even the things of God: 'lay not your hands upon the Ark'. There are things that only the priests can touch and then only with great care.
In the New Testament, the time of the Word made flesh, the mystery of God is revealed to seeing and hearing, tasting and smelling and touching. 'Something that has existed since the beginning, that we have now seen and touched with our hands, the Word who is life' - so the prologue to the first letter of Saint John puts it. Jesus, the Word Incarnate, reaches out and touches the leper. He uses spittle to cure a blind man. He is to be seen and heard. He is available to be touched, washed, anointed. The people crowd around to touch even the fringe of his garment, in the hope of being made well.
This woman in the house of Simon gets far beyond the hem of his clothes with her tears, her hands, her hair, and her ointment: she is loving him in what might be seen as the superficial sense associated with her trade. But in these same actions she is loving him in the profound sense associated with his trade, with the things he has come to do for her. It can only be, Jesus says to the shocked Pharisees, that she has been forgiven much because you see how much she loves. Of course they did not see how much she loved, they saw something else, but her heart was open and visible to the eyes of the prophet just as their thoughts too were known to Jesus. For them she was a woman to be despised (at least in public) whereas for Jesus she was a healed person showing the great love that flows from her experience of that healing.
Timothy could be despised also, for his youth, and Paul encourages him to resist this. (A 'young priest' is always something of a contradiction in terms!) Remember the gift you have received, Paul says, through the prophetic word and the touch of the hands of those who ordained you. It repeats much of what we see in the gospel - a gift given through touch and the prophetic word. This is a concise description of the sacramental life of the Church, those moments in which we are touched by God and we touch God, seeing and hearing, tasting and smelling and touching. The meaning of those actions needs the prophetic word that unlocked the meaning of the woman's actions. The word of Christ sanctifies the gestures and rituals of this created order and makes them belong to the new creation, they are its presence with us already.
Look, then, at what the woman is doing for Jesus and see forgiveness and love. Look at what is done to Timothy and see priestly service and the ministry of preaching. Look at what Jesus does, listen to what he says, and see the prophet who was to come into the world, the herald of forgiveness, the judge of love, God with us, inviting us to touch him.