Sunday, June 13, 2010

I Confessed My Faults To The LORD, And He Took Away My Guilt.

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I
2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13
Nathan said to David:
“Thus says the LORD God of Israel:
‘I anointed you king of Israel.
I rescued you from the hand of Saul.
I gave you your lord’s house
and your lord’s wives for your own.
I gave you the house of Israel and of Judah.
And if this were not enough,
I could count up for you still more.
Why have you spurned the Lord
and done evil in his sight?
You have cut down Uriah the Hittite with the sword;
you took his wife as your own,
and him you killed with the sword of the Ammonites.
Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house,
because you have despised me
and have taken the wife of Uriah to be your wife.’
Then David said to Nathan,
“I have sinned against the LORD.”
Nathan answered David:
“The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin:
you shall not die.”
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 32
Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
Blessed is the one whose fault is taken away,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed the man to whom the LORD imputes not guilt,
in whose spirit there is no guile.
Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
I acknowledged my sin to you,
my guilt I covered not.
I said, “I confess my faults to the LORD,”
and you took away the guilt of my sin.
Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
You are my shelter; from distress you will preserve me;
with glad cries of freedom you will ring me round.
Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you just;
exult, all you upright of heart.
Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Reading II
Galatians 2:16, 19-21
Brothers and sisters:
We who know that a person is not justified
by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ,
even we have believed in Christ Jesus
that we may be justified by faith in Christ
and not by works of the law,
because by works of the law no one will be justified.
For through the law I died to the law,
that I might live for God.
I have been crucified with Christ;
yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me;
insofar as I now live in the flesh,
I live by faith in the Son of God
who has loved me and given himself up for me.
I do not nullify the grace of God;
for if justification comes through the law,
then Christ died for nothing.
Luke 7:36 - 8:3
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.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this
he said to himself,
“If this man were a prophet,
he would know who and what sort of woman
this is who is touching him,
that she is a sinner.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Tell me, teacher, ” he said.
“Two people were in debt to a certain creditor;
one owed five hundred days’ wages
and the other owed fifty.
Since they were unable to repay the debt,
he forgave it for both.
Which of them will love him more?”
Simon said in reply,
“The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”
He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon,
“Do you see this woman?
When I entered your house,
you did not give me water for my feet,
but she has bathed them with her tears
and wiped them with her hair.
You did not give me a kiss,
but she has not ceased kissing my feet
since the time I entered.
You did not anoint my head with oil,
but she anointed my feet with ointment.
So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven
because she has shown great love.
But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The others at table said to themselves,
“Who is this who even forgives sins?”
But he said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Afterward he journeyed
from one town and village to another,
preaching and proclaiming
the good news of the kingdom of God.
Accompanying him were the Twelve
and some women who had been cured
of evil spirits and infirmities,
Mary, called Magdalene,
from whom seven demons had gone out,
Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza,
Susanna, and many others who provided for them
out of their resources.
Today’s gospel reading is one of the most striking scenes in the entire Gospel. It is a story found only in Luke, and, in a way, it is surprising that it is not recorded elsewhere. Maybe it was considered to daring by some, especially the early Jewish disciples, because it involves a dialogue between Jesus and a sinful woman.

Luke tells us that one of the Pharisees – his name is Simon – was eager to invite Jesus to dinner at his house. The word “Pharisee” means “someone set apart”. In Jesus’ day they taught in synagogues, and considered themselves models of religious practice. They were the self-appointed guardians of the Law and its observance. Their interpretations and regulations were considered to have the same authority as those of the Scriptures.

Simon’s intention in inviting Jesus is not clear. Did he consider it a privilege to have Jesus come to his house, or was he looking for an opportunity to challenge Jesus about his teachings and his attitude toward sinners? In any event, Jesus accepted the invitation, and joined the others at Simon’s table. As was the custom at the time, the dinner guests were not sitting, but reclining on couches. It is not clear whether what happened next was spontaneous, or whether it was part of a conspiracy to put Jesus in a compromising situation, where he could be denounced. It seems strange that a woman such as this could burst into the house of a Pharisee unchallenged. On the other hand, the more sinister possibility is that, as happened on other occasions, the entire scenario was planned to embarrass and compromise the teacher from Nazareth. This is actually a more credible explanation of how a “woman of easy virtue” could gain access to the house of a Pharisee. How will Jesus deal with this situation?

We are told that the woman is a sinner. Here, the word “sinner” can only refer to some public immorality. It is likely that she was a “woman of the streets”, or at least, a woman known for her promiscuous behavior. She was eager to meet Jesus, and had heard that he was dining at Simon’s house. So she burst in, carrying an alabaster jar of expensive ointment (worth 1½ years of a laborer’s wages) and approached Jesus.

She immediately starts crying, and her abundant tears bathe Jesus’ feet. Then, she begins to dry Jesus’ feet with her long hair. The fact that she wore her hair down in public indicates that she was a “loose woman”. Then, she kissed Jesus’ feet, and poured the ointment over them.

Whether Simon had planned it or not, he was deeply shocked at the scene that was playing out before his eyes. If Jesus is really a prophet – he thought to himself – he knows what kind of a woman is touching him. She is a sinner, and no righteous person, least of all a rabbi like Jesus, ought to allow this to happen – especially not at the house of a Pharisee.

Fully aware of what is going on in Simon’s mind, Jesus tells him a story – a parable about two debtors, one of whom owed a large amount, and the other a smaller amount. The creditor decides to write off both debts. “Which of the two”, Jesus asks, “would be more grateful to the creditor?” “The one with the greater debt”, answers Simon. “Well said!” answers Jesus, and then he goes on to apply the lesson of the parable to the present situation. In doing so, Jesus points out something that Simon probably hadn’t thought of: he too is a sinner, perhaps not to the same degree. Moreover, Simon had been guilty of a lack of proper hospitality, not even extending the most common courtesy to his guest before they sat down to dinner – a most serious breach of etiquette in that part of the world at that time.

Simon did not have a servant wash Jesus’ feet when he entered the house, or did he greet him with a kiss on the cheek, as was the custom. But the woman washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and never stopped kissing his feet since she entered the house. Simon had not put oil on his guest’s head, but the woman poured a vial of expensive ointment over his feet. Therefore – now we come to the moral of the story: “Her many sins are forgiven, because she has shown much love.” Clearly, the one who has loved less has not yet been fully forgiven. Then, turning to the woman at his feet, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” This is more a statement of fact than a form of absolution. The guests at table start to ask one another: “Who is this, that he forgives sin?” Again, Jesus says to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

This is a truly extraordinary story. To appreciate it, you have to be present with all your senses active: See Simon, Jesus, and the woman in the foreground, and the other guests as well. Listen to the dialogue between the Pharisee and the teacher from Nazareth, and between Jesus and that woman. Inhale the aroma of the ointment. Feel the touch of the woman’s hand on Jesus’ feet. Taste her tears when Jesus tells her that her sins are forgiven.

How would today’s clergy respond to a similar situation? Can you imagine what the newspapers would have made of this scene? Jesus can see that the sinner is expressing sincere repentance, which results in her being filled with love. She expresses her love in the only way she knows how – physically, and with a great deal of emotion. To some at the table – and perhaps to some of us – what she is doing, and how Jesus responds, seems rather unbecoming, to say the least.

Far from becoming embarrassed, much less being angry, Jesus tells the woman that her sins are forgiven. This is not so much because Jesus exercised his divine power of forgiveness; rather, it was her faith, and her repentance, that won her forgiveness. She has been forgiven because she has show great love. Love and sin are incompatible: they cannot co-exist in the same person.

At this point, her immoral past becomes irrelevant. In our society, people who have committed crimes can be stuck with labels, no matter how long ago the event occurred, or how fully they have reformed their lives. God does not work that way. God deals with persons as they are here and now. Remember the man who was crucified next to Jesus. He had led a terrible life, and was being executed for his crimes. Yet he appeals to Jesus: “Remember me, when you come into your kingdom”, and is promised, “This day you will be with me in paradise”. Is that fair or unfair? Thank goodness, God’s notion of fairness is not ours. Otherwise, we might be in serious trouble because of what we did in the past, no matter how repentant we have been, and how fully we have reformed our lives.

Today’s liturgy links this story with the sin of David. Even though he had been made King of Israel and had been showered with God’s blessings (including a harem of the former king’s wives), that was not enough for him. He lusted after the wife of Uriah, one of his generals, and committed adultery with her. Worse yet, he tried to cover up his wrongdoing, and when other attempts failed, he had Uriah posted in the most dangerous area of the battlefield, where he was killed. When Nathan the prophet pointed out his sin to him, David repented bitterly of what he had done, “I have sinned against the Lord.” His repentance won the Lord’s forgiveness although there were negative consequences, including the untimely death of his beloved but rebellious son, Absalom. On the other hand, there was a magnificent reward forthcoming many generations later, as we read in the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter I: David and Bathsheba (who had been the wife of Uriah), are listed among the ancestors of Jesus, the Messiah.

Once again, we see how God always seeks to pardon and to rehabilitate his children, not to punish them. Punishment destroys; forgiveness rebuilds. God’s desire is that each of us be made whole and experience the inner peace and harmony of his presence within our hearts.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Thanks for this post. One of the hardest things for me to do was to accept the grace of forgiveness at face value. For the longest time, I would still feel guilty. Then I realized that feeling guilty still implied that I did not trust God's grace. I do trust, so I have stopped feeling guilty and now feel relieved and joyful and thankful for such grace.