"Her many sins have been forgiven"
Readings for Sunday: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/061216.cfm
2 Sam 12: 7-10.13
Gal 2: 16a, 19b-20
Lk 7: 36-50
“When God’s love meets human sin the fruit is always mercy.” That reassuring statement is reflected throughout our sacred scriptures both Old and New Testaments. We hear it in the story of the Jewish people and their on again/off again response to the Covenant God established with them on Mt. Sinai through Moses. We hear its echo in the preaching of the prophets, the exile and return of the nation of Israel, the song of the Psalms and clearly fleshed out in the way in which Jesus treated all people and his particular focus on those who lived isolated and shunned from ancient society – the sick and identified “sinners.” When God’s love meets human sin the fruit is always mercy.
Our first reading from Samuel and the Gospel passage from Luke are startling examples of this truth. We might be tempted to ask, who sinned more grievously – David or the unidentified sinful woman in the Gospel? By contrast we know what David’s sin involved – jealousy, unrestrained lust, murder, deception, and lying. If you read the story of David and Bathsheeba (2 Sam 11) you’ll see it all there and that is the reference made in the first reading by Nathan the prophet: “You have cut down Uriah . . . with the sword; you took his wife as your own . . . and have taken the wife of Uriah to be your wife.” To understate we might say that David’s sin was a deep violation of the sacred commandments prohibiting adultery and murder. This was no little white lie.
David realizes his great offense and acknowledges his guilt: “I have sinned against the Lord.” He accepts responsibility, does not minimize or rationalize or point a finger at others or blame anyone else except himself. Nathan responds: “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.”
Now you may initially have the same surface reaction I hear in me – “that’s it?” Just that easy? After deliberate deception and killing, which David did not do himself but arranged the battle to appear like an accident, (2 Sam 11: 14-17) he’s forgiven by a simple statement on his part? How do we know he means it? In the same way that God offers forgiveness to anyone of us – by reading our hearts, our true repentance and true intention.
Which takes us to the Gospel story in the home of a Pharisee named Simon. Jesus accepts the invitation of a Pharisee, likely well known and wealthy, to dinner. According to middle eastern hospitality, only your equal could be invited to dine with you so evidently Simon viewed Jesus somewhat on an equal par. However, it is clear that it stopped there. No signs of hospitality are extended to Jesus by his guest – washing of feet, drying them, washing of hands offered before the meal. What does Simon really think of Jesus and what are his real intentions for the dinner invitation?
We are struck by the appearance of an uninvited guest; certainly no equal with the Pharisee or others gathered with him – a sinful woman in the city. Who she is and what exactly was her sin we are never told; she remains nameless unlike the clarity of David’s sin. She had some sort of reputation that was known to the Pharisee and likely others with him. Nonetheless what unfolds is deeply moving.
In a scene that might be taken for some sort of sensual advance towards Jesus we quickly learn it is a deep expression of gratitude; a pouring out of love in response to some great event in her life which directly involved our Lord. “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.” These are tears of gratitude, reverence, respect and deep connection.
The self-righteous criticism of the Pharisee is not surprising which brings Jesus to a short example about great debt forgiven. He uses this to compare between Simon and the woman. Like the short example of a large debt forgiven, Jesus points to the woman: “Her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.” Abundant mercy has resulted in abundant love and appreciation.
The Pharisee’s presumed self-perfection produces little love on his part due to his rare or perhaps never ask for forgiveness.
For us it is indeed a reminder of what part we play in all this. I believe the woman remains anonymous so that we might see ourselves as her. As frequently seen the Gospel stories remain unfinished. We don’t know what became of the woman, what her sins were, and what precipitated Jesus extension of forgiveness in some previous encounter with her. The woman caught in adultery? It doesn’t matter really. What does matter is the abundant mercy extended by God, through Jesus, to all sinners who repent.
When we come before the Lord, recognizing our own sin, hopefully not so grievous as David or frequent as the woman, the response on God’s part is consistently the same – mercy not condemnation. David’s life was changed due to forgiveness, the woman’s life clearly was turning around to the good, and so our response must be the same. Jesus did not say to the woman caught in adultery: “That’s all right. Just next time be careful. Don’t get caught. No problem.” Sounds a bit like our culture today doesn’t it?
He clearly stated: “Go and do not sin again.” When we hear the words of the priest in the sacrament of Reconciliation: “I absolve you from your sins . . .” We hear Jesus say to the woman: “Your sins are forgiven.”
Forgiveness extended by God to ourselves always should spur gratitude and openness to conversion of heart and life. The great outpouring of appropriate affection for Jesus was a sign that scholars mostly conclude the woman had already experienced forgiveness. Moved by her love and deep gratefulness Jesus points out that her new life is a result of being forgiven. Her experience of love was so powerful that it changed the direction of her life.
Our celebration of the Eucharist is the greatest way that we, sinners though we are, say “thank you.” The way we live our lives is our way of showing love and abundant mercy to others as it is extended to us. As Jesus becomes food for us we are strengthened and healed of sin. Only divine love can bring such mercy to us.
“When God’s love meets human sin the fruit is always mercy.” Let us go and do the same.
O God, strength of those who hope in you,
graciously hear out 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.
(Roman Missal: Collect of Mass)