The Welcome

The gospel this week dwells on the theme of hospitality -- that which we offer both to one another and to God, and that which God offers to us. The intimacy and in a sense extravagance with which the sinful woman welcomes Jesus is sharply contrasted with that of Peter the Pharisee, who neither welcomed Jesus properly nor offers hospitality to this woman at his door. And at the same time, the woman’s devotions are indicated to be emblematic of God’s own extravagant hospitality towards her. As she has been so radically loved and forgiven by God, so does she now love in a prodigal, unbound way. (It’s interesting to note, while some translations suggest that Jesus forgives the woman because of her loving acts, modern scholars have found the proper translation is exactly the opposite -- her love is a result of God’s forgiveness.) With its many layers, the story certainly provides much to work with, especially occurring Father’s Day weekend. As a presider, this theme of hospitality makes me think about the rite of greeting. How do I welcome a congregation? Usually as the opening hymn ends my heart is racing and my head is preoccupied with the homily. I’ve prepared no opening words of welcome, and what comes out is a spontaneous, messy blurt of energy and emotion. This, I continue to discover, is not a recipe for good liturgy. After dashing in from who knows where with kids or spouses or lives, and then singing out the entrance hymn, we all want something to help them get comfortable and settle in. Not a second homily (God save us), not a folksy story, a gag, what Father did this week -- it’s a liturgy, not a talk show. Just something simple, a couple gentle sentences, said with warmth and ease, maybe a little silence, that might yield us some space to gather ourselves and breathe. As much as Jesus could make great pronouncements, the gospel keeps reminding me that what was notable to many was the way that he welcomed. Jim McDermott, S.J.

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