Jun 15, 2013

11th Sunday - A God of extravagance

"Her many sins are forgiven. . . because she has shown great love."

Sam 12: 7-10, 13
Gal 2: 16, 19-21
Lk 7: 36 – 8: 3a

Recently at one of his now famous daily homilies, Pope Francis reflected on sin and forgiveness.  As he said: “The fact we are all sinners is not the problem — the real problem is not repenting of sin, not being ashamed of what we have done.” (Homily 5/17/13).

Such a view may not be seen as exactly politically correct these days. Yet, I can’t think of a more direct and simple commentary on our culture today.  Personal responsibility for one’s choices seems lacking to say the least.  We fall into the blame game.  We blame our parents for the way we were raised, we blame the culture around us, we claim self-defense (which may be true of course), we claim ignorance, and then we forget the details of the event and in short accept no responsibility for our actions.  If all this is true, then sin does not exist, except for the “biggies” which of course we don’t do.  And if sin does not exist, if all we do is make mistakes or present ourselves as victims of our past or the culture we live in, then forgiveness carries no responsibility?

Our Gospel this Sunday (Lk 7: 36 – 8:3a) is one of the most striking scenes of the New Testament.  It’s close to the edge in a sense and on one level may seem a bit uncomfortable.  There’s no doubt that Jesus may have put himself in a somewhat compromising position as he dines with the Pharisees and encounters a woman there with a questionable “reputation.” She was “a woman in the city, who was a sinner.” In other words, a likely prostitute.  So, it makes one wonder how she was able to get in to this gathering of learned men. Maybe just pushed herself in with one single intent – to meet Jesus.

Two levels are related here.  The expectation of the Pharisees, those who prided themselves as guardians of the Jewish Law, who invite Jesus to dinner and have bought in to the fact that everyone in society has their proper place.  They are learned in the Law and so recognize in Jesus an astute Rabbi who also is skilled in interpretation.  So, was this just “let’s have a lively dinner conversation” or maybe a set up? 

Was the nameless woman a trap by Simon the Pharisee who wanted to corner Jesus as the same crowd had attempted when another woman was caught in adultery and they brought her to him?  Then, as now, Jesus was not particularly selective about those he would mingle with so on that level, the presence of this woman is not surprising but he skillfully turns the table with a parable about forgiveness; a parable that cuts to the heart of the matter and rises above any attempt at deception.

The story he tells is of two debtors one of whom owed their creditor 500 denarii (the woman?) and the other who owed 50 (Simon the Pharisee?). Neither debtor was able to pay back what they owed so the creditor forgave both debts.  An obviously impossible situation if all we consider is good business practice.  But, Jesus’ story has a moral objective. The one who was forgiven the larger debt loved and was more grateful for the creditor’s mercy. 

As the woman approached Jesus, undoubtedly in a repentant manner, “She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair.” This was not a show to be noticed or some attempt to seduce Jesus but Our Lord was able to recognize her true repentance and sorrow.  Though she had the greater “debt” in the amount of her sin, because “she has shown great love” she is forgiven her indebtedness. As Jesus tenderly says to her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” In short, this is what God is like and we see it in the act of his Son.

Meanwhile, wouldn’t you love to see the face of Simon and others assembled in their self-righteous assurance? Was he moved by this act of mercy?  Did he understand that the same forgiveness is offered to him, though his sin may have been less?

God knows our sin. Jesus did not deny that the woman was a sinner.  “So, I tell you her many sins have been forgiven . . .” But the greater act is that of what Our Lord offers every one of us – his extravagant mercy.  God wants to forgive us.  He desires that we grow in his grace.  He wants us to avoid sin in all its forms and live lives that reflect the Gospel.  And when we fall short, he is there waiting not with condemnation but with mercy. 

Simon was unable to see all of this for himself and because of his blindness he was not forgiven.  But the woman, far more sinful than he, recognized in Jesus one who could save her and break the chain of unhealthy behavior.

So, it seems the lesson is clear. As Pope Francis reminded us: ““The fact we are all sinners is not the problem — the real problem is not repenting of sin, not being ashamed of what we have done.”

We have a sacrament to heal our wounded souls in Reconciliation, we have a God who wants to forgive and desires the best for us, and we have the Holy Eucharist which is sacred food for our souls and the Bread of Life.  We say, “Lord, have mercy” and “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof . . .” at every Mass. Is this just Catholic guilt to make me feel uncomfortable or an invitation to wipe the feet of Christ in repentance?  I think the second. Like the woman, we are called to a faith built upon trust.  Even if our "faith" wavers, the invitation compels us to trust in Christ anyway.  As Jesus said to the woman: "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." These words may even remind you of the words of the priest at the end of the Sacrament of Reconciliation after absolution is offered.  

The minute we say, “I have sinned” and work to turn our lives around is the beginning of our new life in Christ. Whether our debt be small or enormous the same mercy is offered to us.  In our first reading we see that even the great King David, once he acknowledged what he had done, was repentant and forgiven.

O God, strength of those who hope in you,
graciously hear our pleas,
and , since without you mortal frailty can do nothing,
grant us always the help of your grace,
that in following your commands
we may please you by our resolve and our deeds.

(Collect for Sunday)