Thursday, September 17, 2009

One Who Has Been Forgiven Much, Will Respond With Much Love.

Today’s First Reading continues Paul’s advice to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12-16). There may be some in the Christian community at Ephesus who would oppose him, since he is still a young man. At that time, Timothy was about 30 years of age, and, in the common view of those times, lacked a decade or two of experience to be considered wise. Paul encourages Timothy to become a pattern to his flock of how a disciple of Christ should live. He should be careful in what he says and how he says it. In what he does, he must demonstrate true Christian virtue: faith, purity of heart, and love above all. “The greatest of these is love”, as Paul writes elsewhere. Timothy is encouraged to speak and act with love for God, and for the Christians whose anointed leader he is.

Until his arrival, Paul advises Timothy to focus on three tasks: reading the Scriptures to the church; encouraging them to believe God’s word; teaching them how to live according to the model given in the holy book. When the elders laid hands on Timothy, he received a gift of grace from God. This grace was to help him accomplish the task to which God appointed him. There are many gifts of the Holy Spirit, and it is not written which of these gifts Timothy had received, yet we can be sure that it was the grace he needed to be faithful to his ministry as the leader of the church at Ephesus.

Timothy is urged to be diligent in the matters which Paul has mentioned; he must become absorbed in them so that his progress will be evident to the members – and especially the elders – of the community of Christians in Ephesus. As they observe how he grows in confidence, that is, in trust of God, he will grow in the authority God has given to him as leader of the Christian community at Ephesus.

In brief, there are two matters that Timothy must be attentive to: himself, and his teaching. “Persevere in both tasks”, Paul writes, “for by so doing, you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”

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Today’s gospel is from Luke (7:36-50).

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—five hundred days wages to one and fifty to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”

“That’s right,” Jesus said. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

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“Who is this woman in the city who was a sinner?” asked Peter Chrysologus (380 – 450). He was renowned in his time for the brevity of his sermons, so he came straight to the point: “Beyond any doubt,” he said, “she is the Church.”

Let’s follow his idea. She had to get past the Pharisees at the door, who actually owned the place. She must have felt that she was gate-crashing. In fact she wasn't, because the public were allowed to enter and listen when a rabbi was at table. But she surely saw the contempt in their faces and in their body-language. Unlike them she was not pretending to be a saint. A saint, someone said, is a dead sinner, revised and edited. But she was a live sinner. They were the ones who looked dead: moral righteousness usually looks like a death-mask. She was alive and full of feeling and expression. ”Ardent, panting and perspiring,” was how Peter Chrysologus described her. She was able to weep, and therefore she was able to love. She was able to love, and therefore she was able to forgive and to be forgiven....

I'm beginning to feel a little uncomfortable with this; are you? I feel I may be one of those poker-faced Pharisees rather than that passionate weeping loving woman. Does Peter Chrysologus have anything to say to reassure us? No, he has lapsed into silence. I am left in silence with the question: Am I better represented by those Pharisees than by the sinful woman? If so, then I separate people from Christ (which is what the name ’Pharisee’ means); I am a barrier to anyone who wants to come near him. I pretend to welcome him and identify with him while excommunicating the very people who are closest to him. Then the eyes of such as this passionate woman will see clearly that “Christ is betrayed amid sweet cups and a banquet of love.”

Donagh O’Shea, O.P

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