In the world that Jesus knew, and even still in the middle east, hospitality is one of the human beings most solemn duties. In part this was because hospitality meant and still means survival in the desert. But even in cities and villages, hospitality was and still is an absolute requirement in that part of the world. That is why in the gospel that we have just heard the behaviour of Simon the Pharisee is so bizarre. We learn that Simon didn’t call for the servant to wash the feet of Jesus. He didn’t anoint his head and didn’t even offer him the kiss of welcome, all of which would have been par for the course. Simon had invited him to dinner but his hospitality is very much less than wholehearted. Jesus isn’t so much the honoured guest as a man being put to the test. He’s on trial. The dining room has become a law court but in the end it’s Jesus and not Simon who will be the judge. By contrast the sinful woman is amazingly hospital to Jesus. Washing his feet with her tears. Anointing his head with precious ointment. It is she, not Simon, who welcomes Jesus as the honoured guest. In her we see the generosity borne of love which is the heart of true hospitality. In Simon we see the suspicion borne of fear which is the seed of condemnation pointing the finger. “She’s got a bad name”. The woman’s love is far greater than her sin. Simon’s meanness of spirit is far less than her love. Her sin is forgiven. His sin is revealed. She is set free, he is judged. In Jesus we see the lavish hospitality of God which meets the human beings loving welcome. The lavishness of God is known only to those who are themselves lavish , as she is. And the heart of God’s lavishness is the forgiveness of sin. The sin which makes the human being hopelessly poor and needy.
Now the church, this community, is to be the place where the hospitality of God finds a home and is offered to everybody in need. The church is to be the community where the poorest of the poor find the generosity comes from God. The astonishing hospitality which, as we have heard from the prophet Isaiah, is like the nursing mother. The magnificent hospitality of God who is like the nursing mother. The church is to be the community that goes out in search of those who have found no welcome. Those who have found no hospitality but only condemnation and rejection. If they don’t come to us then we go to them, wherever and whoever they are.
Now this weekend this Cathedral parish is being asked to become part of a project that we are calling the Annual Catholic Campaign. Now you know as well as I do that in the past at least we’ve had what seems to be an endless series of appeals and collections week after week. What the Catholic campaign is seeking to do is to gather all of these collections and appeals into one large appeal. It’s one of the things in the Archdiocese that we are trying to do in an attempt to think and act laterally in the area of church funding. Many of the strategies which worked well in the church in the past aren’t what is needed now and fundraising is one of the areas where this is true. So the Annual Catholic Campaign is an attempt to raise new money, but new money for mission in a way better suited to now. The money raised by this campaign won’t just disappear into some black hole never to be seen again. Rightly, people like to know where their money is going. The money raised by the campaign will go to strengthen parish life, to educate and inspire the young, to prepare church leaders for the future, to care for retired priests and to support families, especially those in trouble. In short we need money for ministries within the church but also for mission to the wider world at a time when we as the church must become more missionary. Without the money there can be no mission. Without the money there can be no welcome. The woman who anointed the feet of Jesus paid plenty for the ointment in the alabaster jar, but that was the price of the welcome that she offered Jesus. The service we offer within the church and beyond to the world is no less a welcome to Jesus himself. An anointing of his feet with all our resources; spiritual, emotional, physical, financial. We reach out to the hungry, to strangers, to the naked and the imprisoned and in finding our way to them, we find our way to Jesus as we learn in the great scene of the last judgement in Matthew’s gospel. Like the women in the gospel the church today is under pressure. The world at times looks at us in the same way that Simon the Pharisee looked at the sinful woman, with suspicion and even a touch of disdain. At such a time we can be tempted to step back. To retire to a private and seemingly self-protective world, just as the woman must have been tempted never to enter the house of Simon. But she takes the risk because she is determined to find her way to Jesus. We too take the risk of going into what may seem alien space or dangerous territory because we believe that it’s there that we’ll meet Jesus in the hungry, the stranger, the naked and the imprisoned. The woman took the risk and she found the welcome. If we can take the risk then we too will find the welcome. Part of taking the risk is responding generously to the Annual Catholic Campaign.
The theme of this year’s campaign, the first of them, is ‘you make a difference to me’. There words that could certainly have been spoken to Jesus by the woman of the gospel story but they are also words which Jesus could have spoken to her. There is always this mutuality in the Christian life. Jesus makes all the difference to us. We need him in an absolute sense just as the woman did. She risked rejection and found the welcome that saves. We make a difference to Jesus not because he needs us but because he freely chooses us to be his body. His physical presence in the world offering to all but especially to the poorest of the poor the hospitality of God. That’s the way he wants to work. Today then brothers and sisters I urge you to be bold and generous in giving from your abundance to the Annual Catholic Campaign so that a host of people will say to you individually and to the church ‘you make a difference to me’. Hearing those words from those we have served , we’ll being hearing the voice of Jesus himself who is never outdone in generosity. Amen
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
July 7, 2013