Beware of 'Gentlemen' 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."
St. Josemaria Escriva once warned against "the man, the 'gentleman,' ready to compromise" - because he would, in the saint's estimation, "condemn Jesus to death again." In a similar vein, G. K. Chesterton imagined that "the devil is a gentleman." Of course, these writers do not mean to disparage the genuine gentleman - the well-mannered, considerate, courteous man. (May we all have such qualities!) Rather, they mean to warn us against the man who allows etiquette and appearances to muzzle his faith - the kind of man who makes social convention the measure of devotion.
Simon the Pharisee provides a good example of such a "gentleman" (cf. Lk 7:36-50). He invites our Lord to his house, but apparently not out of devotion. After all, he omits even the most basic acts of hospitality. More likely, he simple desires the prestige and honor of having a famous rabbi in his house. It is just the thing that he, a religious leader, should do. Such longing for the esteem of others blinds him to the truth of who Jesus is. The Creator and Redeemer of the world enters Simon's house and he is more concerned with appearances. So when the "sinful woman" enters and worships our Lord through tears of repentance and anointing with oil, poor Simon can only think of "what kind of woman this is" and how Christ should not have any contact with her. We can almost hear him gasp in horror at the violation of etiquette.
The Pharisee's attitude is alive and well. We fall into it every time we gloss over our faith or downplay our devotion for fear of appearing "too religious." How many times have we held our tongues and failed to witness because of what others might think - because it might create an "uncomfortable" situation at the cocktail party, in the carpool line, at the soccer field, etc. How many times have we allowed ourselves to be silenced because we do not want to seem out of place of out of keeping with the culture.
Such a tamed, domesticated faith is precisely what the world wants from us, because it does not threaten the world at all. Religion is acceptable, the world tells us, as long as you keep it to yourself. Do not let your devotion interfere with your need to fit in, and you can be as devout as you like. In a sense, the world constantly behaves like Simon the Pharisee: inviting Christ on its own terms and resenting any manifestation of faith. As another election year comes upon us, it is important to note how many Catholic politicians have behaved similarly, tailoring their faith to suit the world. They resemble the Pharisee, for he, too, invited our Lord into his home but drew back when our Lord's saving truth became socially awkward and more demanding than he wanted.
We should adopt, then, the attitude of the "sinful woman," She was willing to become, in St. Paul's words, a "fool for Christ's sake" (cf. 1 Cor 4:10). Now this does not mean that we must interrupt dinner parties with public displays of devotion. Nor does it mean that we become rude in our witness or unnecessarily disruptive. But it does mean that we not allow the culture's views to dictate the terms of our devotion. She understood what the Pharisee did not: the Lord's teaching is for our salvation, not for our comfort and status in society. Indeed, our devotion often does and should interfere with what our culture views as normal. We need not make a scene of things. But naturally, peacefully, calmly and without rancor we must live genuine Catholic lives - even when it makes others uncomfortable.
The woman's example becomes all the more compelling when we consider that her devotion to our Lord reflects His devotion to us. She can confidently humble - even humiliate - herself in the sight of men because our Lord had already done so in the sight of heaven. Imagine the gasp of the rebel angels as they saw the Son of God humbling Himself to take on our human nature, to dwell among us, and to be delivered into our sinful hands. Perhaps our Lord is so moved by the woman's profligate display because He sees in it a reflection of His own. May He find in us the same willingness to bear witness and even to be "fools for Christ's sake."
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