The Great Religious Punchline

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.
He said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

magdalenejesusfeethair“A Pharisee invites Jesus to dine with him…” and we all wait for the punch line.  Where’s Henny Youngmen or Shecky Green when you need them?  Or how about, “A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar” and we all wait for the punchline.

We all wait patiently for the joke to conclude, sometimes it takes a while but eventually we get to the end – the punch line.  Jesus today gives us a greatest punchline of our lives – “your faith has saved you, go in peace.”  No laugh track, just a sigh and a deep joy.

“Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”  Eight words that determines which vertical direction you’re headed when this life has ended.  Or has it?  I don’t believe that.

Jesus forgives the sinful “foot woman” because of her great, many sins.  Pretty weird when you think about it.  The rest of us has gotta get out there and sin some more in order to experience the forgiveness of Jesus.  Martin Luther said, “If you’re going to sin, sin boldly.”  Catholics sin sinfully, “Bless me Father for I have sinned, my last confession was two weeks ago…I missed my morning prayers 14 times.”  So I think to myself, “Mmmm…two weeks, 14 times, that’s everyday, missed morning prayers…what the hell is a ‘morning prayer’ and is it sinful to miss it?”  Catholics can’t even sin well enough for the great forgiveness offered us by Jesus saying the punchline,  “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

What fills you up?  What fills up your life?  It may not be one thing but several or many things or people that fill you to life’s brim.  Or is it the emptiness within our lives that fills us?  Just imagine being “filled” with emptiness, filled with nothing.  That’s what make Jesus’ forgiveness important – the emptiness that fills us up so much that we can’t bear it any longer.

The Gospel’s “foot woman” is so full of stuff she no longer likes about herself that she finally finds cleansing through applying ointment to Jesus’ feet.  She can now live in peace because the emptiness that once filled her is now full of something – hope-filled and empowered.  She’s been lifted up, taken away from herself and then returned, whisked from herself but brought back renewed because she was sick and tired of being full of nothing.

The Blessed Mother was full of it but her fullness was accumulated slowly by God’s grace and inspiration.  We politely call her fullness “grace” but Mary, believe me, was full of it.

When we suspect a lie is being told to us what do we reply, “Oh, you’re full of it,” and people know what we mean.  We’re full of the games we’ve played with ourselves and now we try to play the same game with others and find that it doesn’t work.  Sooner or later, however, that false or empty fullness takes over our lives and we need to carefully bend down, wash and anoint the feet of the Son of God.  “Your faith has save you, go in peace.”

You know if the pope died tomorrow, he’d be known forever for one word.  Can you guess that word?  It’s “mercy.”  It’s God’s mercy not only extended to ourselves but most especially shared with others.  Because if mercy begins with you first then, in your need for fullness, it can only expand to others – just like that rippling, small pebble tossed into the water.  “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

Jesus says to the Gospel “foot woman,” “Don’t just kneel there but go, get out of here.  Find a nice restaurant, you don’t want to eat with a Pharisee.  Go.  Do something with this newly found peace of yours.”  Jesus says, “Do something more and beyond yourself so all may know that the peace you extend to them comes not from you but from me.”

As Christians we’ve now heard life’s and can live the ultimate punchline.

About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). Six books on the Catholic church and U.S. culture are available on
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