Prostitution is called the world's oldest profession. Every society and culture has been plagued by some form of it. Though it is illegal in most places, we tend to consider it a harmless vice and victimless crime. But prostitution, whether it is legal or illegal, takes a heavy toll on the individuals who participate in it and on society as a whole.
Most women become involved in prostitution around the age of sixteen. They are usually running away from homes where they have been physically or sexually abused. Alone on the streets, they are easy targets for pimps who promise to take care of them. And before they know it, they find themselves in an even more abusive situation than the one they were running away from.
The average prostitute will spend eleven years of her life on the street. During that time, she will be physically assaulted on a regular basis by either her pimp or her customer. She will be homeless during many of those years. And most likely her pimp will get her addicted to drugs as another way of controlling her.
Sadly, it is not only women who are exploited by prostitution. Around the world children as young as seven are bought and sold to work in the sex industry in such countries as Thailand and India. It is estimated that there are more than one million sex slaves in Asia.
Prostitution is not a victimless crime. For the women and children who are caught up in it, it is a devastating blow to their dignity and future. It destroys families and introduces crime and disease into communities.
Today's gospel does not tell us whether it is a prostitute who approaches Jesus in the home of Simon the Pharisee. Saint Luke, instead, calls her a "sinful woman". But she has been traditionally identified as a prostitute. If so, we can imagine that she lived with a heavy burden of shame. Wherever she went, people would avoid her and point fingers. There was no one in her life who loved her, and she had no hope for her future. She would have been beaten frequently and perhaps even raped.
Saint Luke does not tell us why she seeks out Jesus. Maybe she had heard him speak earlier in the day and was moved by his words. Maybe Jesus had reached out and healed her at some point. Whatever the reason, she feels so drawn to him that she is willing to show up uninvited at the home of an influential family and lavish Jesus with affection. The people at the table would have been shocked. How would you feel if such a woman showed up at your child's birthday party? There would have been an awkward silence as she walked into the room and everyone stopped eating and talking. Yet she did not hesitate to show Jesus just how much she loved him. Just as she shamelessly sinned in her past, so she would shamelessly lavish gratitude on him. She took his feet into her hands, kissed them, bathed them with her tears and anointed them with perfumed oil. She had been set free. Because of Jesus, she was no longer caught up in the cycle of abuse, indignity and despair. In him, she found new self-respect, and she was not ashamed to display her joy.
This woman, sinful as she may have been, is an example for us and a source of hope. All sin is a trap. Whether it is a sin as serious as prostitution or as common as prejudice, it leads us away from God. And when we turn our backs on our Heavenly Father we lose our sense of dignity as his daughters and sons. We are blinded to the needs and interests of others and become locked down in selfishness. Our hearts grow cold and shame and bitterness begin to take over. Eventually we find ourselves unable to climb out of the pit we have fallen into.
Thanks be to God, we have Jesus to lead us out. He is the light shining in the darkness. He is the way leading us out of despair. He is the truth which dispels the lies of this world. No matter how we have sinned, he is capable of forgiving us. No matter what mistakes we have made, he is capable of helping us get free of the trap. If we are willing to turn to him and accept in faith the forgiveness he offers us, we will find our cold, hard hearts pumping with new life and vitality. Like the woman in the gospel, our love will know no limits. We need simply to be willing to leave our sinful past behind and follow the way that Jesus so clearly marks out for us.
We are here today to lavish love and gratitude on Jesus, our Savior. With music, prayer and incense we wash and anoint his feet. We are joyful because he has forgiven us, and we are free. Filled with his love, we will bring his light to those who are still blinded by the darkness of sin. Inspired by his word, we will seek out those who are caught up in the trap of despair and tell them about the freedom we have found. And nourished by his Body and Blood, we will live boldly and confidently as daughters and sons of God.