11th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: 2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13 Second Reading: Galatians 2:16, 19-21 Gospel Reading: Luke 7:36-8:3
“LORD, FORGIVE THE WRONG I HAVE DONE.”
A King of Prussia once visited a convict prison, and interviewing the prisoners one by one asked each of them for what crime they had been sentenced. They all declared themselves innocent of any misdeed whatsoever, except one man who owned up to the evil he had done, and said that he deserved what he was getting. The King ordered his immediate release. “For,” said he, “this man obviously has no business here among all these innocent people.”
If we want our sins forgiven, the first step is to admit and acknowledge that we have committed them and need to seek reconciliation. We are all sinners, and we all need forgiveness. Therefore let us humbly say - “Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.”
Today is 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Today’s readings are all about repentance and forgiveness – repentance, manifested out of deep faith, and forgiveness, expressed in passionate love. Let us consider each of them:
“I have sinned against the Lord.”
In the First Reading of today from the 2nd Book of Samuel, we hear about the sin of King David. King David was not always a hero; in fact, at times he wronged people, although he had been made king over Israel and had been showered with God’s many blessings, yet that was not enough for him.
One day, while he was walking on his rooftop terrace he saw a beautiful married woman by the name of Bathsheba, the wife of one of his generals, Uriah, the Hittite, bathing on her terrace. Lust got the better of David and he committed adultery with her and she became pregnant. To make the matter worse, he tried to cover over his wrongdoing and when his stratagems failed, he engineered the death of Uriah. He had Uriah deliberately posted in the most dangerous part of the battlefield where he was killed. David not only committed adultery but also murder.
When his sin was pointed out to him by Nathan the prophet, David was filled with sorrow and bitterly repented of what he had done, “I have sinned against the Lord.” His repentance won the Lord’s forgiveness and he was spared. Like David, any one of us can lose our perspective and let our desires rule us. Let us therefore earnestly pray to God and say - “Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.”
“Your faith has saved you.”
In the Gospel Reading of today according to Luke, the author tells the beautiful story of the penitent woman with a reputation as a 'sinner,' at the house of a Pharisee named Simon, who invited Jesus to dine with him. Outpouring her love for Jesus, she disregards the usual way guests are treated at a banquet. She bathes Jesus' feet first with her tears, wipes them dry with her hair, kisses them, and then anoints them with precious ointment. This story is a powerful example of the relationship between forgiveness and love.
Now, this is one of the most striking scenes in the whole of the Gospel. Actually, all four Gospels tell of Jesus being anointed by a woman, and down the centuries the four accounts have, naturally enough, been considered together and conflated. However, it should not be thought to be the same incident, described in Matthew and Mark, where a woman pours ointment over the head of Jesus in the house of Simon the leper (although the host in both scenes is called Simon). In John, the incident is described as taking place in the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus where Mary is the one pouring the ointment and anointing the feet of Jesus. Furthermore, the other three Gospels link the anointing to the passion of Jesus and record a complaint about the waste of money through the use of the ointment.
Thus this is a story only found in Luke and we must set these associations aside. Luke is a skilful writer and we need to consider the episode solely as it fits into his story and ignore the other sources. The story occurs much earlier in Luke than the other Gospels and furthermore, it is only Luke who mentions that the woman is a 'sinner.'
Now, whether Simon's intentions in inviting Jesus were upright or otherwise is not clear. Did he regard it as a privilege to have Jesus in his house or did he simply want an opportunity to challenge Jesus about some of his teachings and behavior? In any case, Jesus accepted the invitation and he joined Simon and others at the table. As we know, Jesus was not selective about the company he kept: he accepted invitations from rich and poor, from both Pharisees and tax collectors.
Again, Simon, the host of the banquet, showed Jesus none of the usual courtesies extended to an honored guest when he arrived, viz. a kiss of peace, water for washing his feet & ointment for his head. Yet, the sinful woman more than made up for it.
Also, it is not clear whether what happened next was totally spontaneous or whether it was part of a conspiracy to put Jesus in a compromising position where he could be denounced. In one sense it was strange that a woman such as this could burst into a Pharisee's house unchallenged, although houses would not be bolted and barred. On the other hand, the more sinister and nasty possibility is that, as happened on other occasions, the whole scenario was planned to embarrass and compromise Jesus. This is a more likely explanation of how such a woman could gain accesses to a Pharisee’s house. Here was a real test of his orthodoxy. How would he deal with an obviously immoral woman? It was a similar test to the one with the woman taken in adultery.
This is a really extraordinary story. To appreciate this one has to enter into it and be really present with all one's senses active. What comes across is the amazing composure and inner security and freedom of Jesus during the whole episode. He shows absolutely no signs of being uncomfortable or embarrassed. He does not pull away or tell the woman to stop what she is doing. What is clear is that the woman's own intentions were sincere and his focus is entirely on her intentions and not on how it looks to the other people in the room. Let us admire Jesus’ ability to focus totally on the woman and not be self-conscious about the other people around. Jesus can see that the woman is expressing sincere repentance, and this results in her being filled with love.
But, Simon, whether he had planned it or not, was deeply shocked at the extraordinary scene that was being playing out before his eyes and in his house. He was not impressed at all with the effusive gesture of repentance of the woman. Even for the most virtuous of women it would have been outrageous behavior. Yet he made no attempt to keep out the sinful woman. What was important for him was that if Jesus was really a prophet then he should have known that the woman ministering to him was a sinner and he should therefore not have allowed her to even get near him, much less to minister to him.
Jesus was fully aware of what was going on in Simon's mind. Knowing this was a test, Jesus then tests Simon. He tells him a story about two debtors. One owed a large amount and other a smaller amount. However, the creditor wrote off both debts. He asks him a simple question with an obvious and simple answer to it - “Which of the two would be more grateful and appreciative?” Obviously the one who had been remitted the larger debt, said Simon. "Well said," replied Jesus and then went on to apply the parable to let the Pharisee see where he was wrong. In the process he indicated something that Simon had probably not thought of – that he, too, was a sinner, even though to a lesser degree. Jesus rebuked Simon for seeing only the sinfulness of the woman and not his own. Consequently he showed little love toward Jesus. Consequently, too, he remained in his sins as his self-righteousness was not righteousness at all.
Now comes the central point of the story: Far from being angry or embarrassed, Jesus tells the woman that her sins are forgiven. This was not so much because of Jesus exercising his power. It was really her faith and clear repentance which won her forgiveness. The forgiveness is manifested in the outpouring of love that follows. Love and sin are incompatible; they cannot co-exist in the same person. She was loving Jesus so much at that moment that she could not be a sinner.
Faith, not Law:
The Second Reading of today from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians touches on the heart of today’s Mass. “What makes a person right with God is not obedience to the Law but faith in Jesus Christ.” That was the difference between the Pharisee and the sinful woman. Simon based his goodness on the mechanical observance of laws and regulations. He judged others by the same standards. In his book, there was no place for someone like the woman in the story. The woman, however, in the presence of Jesus throws herself at his feet and surrenders entirely to him. He accepts her totally even when she behaves in a way which 'respectable' society would regard as outrageous. Far from being scolded, she is rewarded for her “faith.”
Faith is not, as some people seem to think, just an intellectual act. It is primarily an act of love and total trust. As Paul tells us today, it is that trust in God through Jesus Christ that transforms our lives. For such people law has no real meaning; there is no need for law when our lives are totally directed by love. A truly loving person cannot do an evil thing, although he/she may violate the letter of a law. As long as there is love, the real intentions of the law will be observed. On the other hand, just to keep the law without love will end in very undesirable results. So, Paul, who left the Law and gave himself entirely to Christ his Lord, says today, “I live. No, it is not I but Christ lives in me.” He has become so totally identified with the Lord that he can hardly say what belongs to him and what belongs to Jesus. Like the woman in the Gospel, Paul, too, was passionately in love with Jesus. May we follow in their footsteps.
Today's reading helps us to see the importance of faith which led Jesus to finally say to the sinful woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." The woman manifested such a deep faith in God that it led her to seek forgiveness for her sins. And because so much was forgiven, she in turn overwhelmed Jesus with her love. The whole episode is thus a powerful lesson on the relation between forgiveness and love. If we want to live as true Christians here and now, let us do likewise.
Also, St. Paul says that having faith in Jesus is what makes us favorable in God's eyes. Paul tells us that his faith is so strong that it's as if he no longer lives, but Christ lives in him. People should be able to see God's love radiating in us. Those who are so intent on keeping the law that they don't reflect God's love are missing the point.
Finally, let us always keep in mind - God always forgives, if we are truly sorry, no matter how far we stray from Him. He always tries to rehabilitate and not to punish. Punishment destroys. God's desire is that we be all made whole and experience inner peace and harmony. And, one of the keys here is the ‘asking’ of forgiveness. We have merely to say in good faith, “Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.” Also, do we ask for the forgiveness of one another when we are truly sorry for wronging them?
So, let us ask God for forgiveness, and do it out of love and respect – and we will be forgiven. Jesus has given us the means for this to happen; one of these is the Eucharist and the other is the sacrament of Reconciliation. Surely, we don’t want to be like the Pharisee but rather like the woman, who loves more and is forgiven more. And this is the Good News of today.