So, you attend Mass regularly and ask others “What parish are you from?” and proudly claim your Catholic identity. In the light of that, the question I have for you is this: “What’s your PDH level?” PDH, you know, Public Displays of Holiness, PDH. When you are out and about in the world, in business and social scenes, what’s your tolerance level for displays of faith? Do you squirm a little when a dinner companion in a restaurant declares that it’s time to say grace? Do you get oddly uncomfortable when a friend pulls you aside and asks you to pray for them right now? Do you soft pedal your answer when someone asks about your faith and you tell them “Christian” instead of “Catholic”? If someone offers to lay hands on you to intercede for a heartfelt need in a public space (even church) do you decline out of embarrassment? Do you refrain from asking anyone for prayer when you’re in a public setting because that makes you feel out of place? Do you regularly refrain from going to confession because it might be embarrassing? These things are a barometer of your PDH tolerance. If you answered yes to any of the above maybe you need to rethink who you really are as a believer.
The ultimate example of what our attitude should be about PDH is, of course, Jesus. I bet you never gave much thought to his prime example of PDH tolerance. Recall the dinner invitation to the Pharisee’s home (Luke 7:36-8:3). He is welcomed in and heads to the banquet room to “recline at table”. This was the style of entertaining at the time, very Roman and a reflection of the culture. The banquet room was crowded with guests of honor, all reclining and a multitude of servants carrying in multi courses of food, drink, and other necessities on large platters. In the middle of this fray an unusual thing happens. A beautiful woman with long flowing locks, carrying a massively expensive alabaster jar filled with priceless perfume (nard) appears in the middle of all this chaos. She pushes past the crowded conditions and lets no one stop her. The jar is opened and her weeping becomes more than obvious. It’s Jesus she is aiming for and her tears are enough to wash his dirty feet. She uses her beautiful hair to wipe them, generously applies the perfume and does not stop kissing his feet. She does not speak a word, her tears speak for her. Her humility and willingness to reverence the Lord by washing his feet is a display that does not need words and it is a prefigurement of the tradition of “foot washing” on Holy Thursday. Would you wash someone’s feet, would you actually kiss them or would you be embarrassed? I once had this very experience on a Holy Thursday and could do nothing but weep as the humble Benedictine demonstrated his Christ like love for me.
The real question about this scene, though, revolves around Jesus’ attitude about this very blatant PDH. After all, he is at an elegant public affair in his honor and all are looking at him for his reaction. People are even thinking judgmental thoughts in the midst of this woman’s unabashed public display. She was, after all, one of “those women”, totally unclean. Remember the strict Jewish laws about “uncleanness” and touching and purification. Jesus is unfazed, though, and uses this “crazy situation” as a teachable moment. He pulls his host (Simon the Pharisee) aside after reading his judgmental thoughts and poses a question to him. He then uses Simon’s own answer to teach the crowd and the host about forgiveness and mercy. His final example notes the woman who is still kissing and anointing his feet and the fact that she must be full of love because of her act as well as the love came from the experience of a great forgiveness that was granted her. In this situation, Jesus does not exhibit one iota of judgment, annoyance, embarrassment or impatience. The two emotions he exhibits from the get-go are forgiveness and love! The fact that this woman has created an awkward public spectacle and disturbed Jesus’ meal is not even mentioned. Clearly, it was totally irrelevant to him. He could have easily embarrassed his host for his judgmental thoughts, or chastised the crowd for their incredulity regarding this woman. He could have done both of these and would not have been wrong at correcting the peoples’ reactions. Rather, his teaching is focused on one thing, demonstrating the love of God that is being displayed, literally at his feet, and giving the woman hope and blessing by teaching all that sin is not a permanent condition in the eyes of God. Amazing, isn’t it?
So what situations have you been present at when someone was loudly seeking God’s mercy or expressing forgiveness or seeking hope that you didn’t recognize as an opportunity where God’s grace could enter in? Remember that situations where others are seeking hope and/or forgiveness are not about you! As believers we are commissioned to continue Jesus’ example of bringing God’s love into the world. As Henry Nouwen teaches us, we are in a unique position to offer any hurting person the hospitality that is non-judgemental and healing. "Hospitality is the virtue which allows us to break through the narrowness of our own fears.... Hospitality makes anxious disciples into powerful witnesses...." (Nouwen, The Wounded Healer, P.89) The next time you are in a place where someone is seeking forgiveness, belonging, or openly expressing deep gratitude that makes you uncomfortable, rethink! Learn to recognize a situation that tempts you to think about yourself and any embarrassment you might have. What else is happening in that moment? Take a deep lesson from the woman with the alabaster jar and remember that situations where people are publically showing deep emotions are not occasions to be “hushed up” but rather, moments to forget self and help open the door of welcome for the love of Christ to enter in. Then you’ll actually be living your faith.
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Copyright ©2010, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved.
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