Let’s begin with a romantic couple on the verge of getting married. They are walking by a tranquil lakeshore and discussing and dreaming about their future life together; about where to live and building a home, about having children and sharing their lives into hopefully a long and blessed future. Then, at one point in the conversation, she turns to him and asks tentatively, “Could you forgive me if I were unfaithful? He replies rather quickly, “Of course, I would. I love you too much not to!”
It is precisely this quality of forgiveness we celebrate today. It is there in all three readings offering assurance to sinners that God cannot help but forgive because God, who is Love, loves us too much not to. This quality of forgiveness is at the heart of the Scriptures and was made incarnate in the person and mission of Jesus.
David may have been a great and successful king but he wasn’t always a good man. Falling in love with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah and then using all his cunning to get Uriah killed in the battlefield wasn’t one of his better days. He probably thought as king you can do that kind of thing but in the eyes of the Lord he sinned. Furthermore, he seems quite unaware of any wrongdoing until the prophet Nathan challenges him. David quickly saw the wrong in Nathan’s story about the rich man stealing a little lamb from a poor man but couldn’t see he did the same thing himself until Nathan pointed it out with that stunning phrase, ‘You’re the man!’
David’s example speaks to all of us. How difficult it is to be confronted with one’s own sin. Is not Jesus onto the same thing when he talks about taking the beam out of one’s own eye first before you can talk of taking the spot out of another’s eye. And then how humiliating to admit our own guilt. But this David immediately admitted when he recognised is wrong. Also full credit to him for listening to Nathan. In like manner we must listen to the Nathans whom God sends our way to call us to repent and believe the good news of God’s forgiveness. Yes, God forgave David because God cannot but forgive. He loved David too much not to.
Today’s gospel gives us a “close-up” view of what a friend of sinners is like in action. I recently heard a story of such a friend. She was an elderly religious sister who was retired, and who was free to use her time as she pleased. Every morning she set off with a shopping bag, and no one seemed to know where she was going, and what she did all day. She never spoke about her work, and nobody asked her. One day she was knocked down and killed by a car as she tried to cross a busy road. Her funeral took her community completely by surprise. Every “drop-out,” wino, and homeless person in Dublin arrived at the convent for her funeral. She had been their friend, and they came to pay tribute to her. It was quite a revelation for her community, who were embarrassed, humbled, and profoundly moved by the outpouring of grief they witnessed.
What’s immediately striking about this story is the gratitude of all these winos and drop-outs who came to pay their respects. Obviously this kind sister made them feel good, worthy – a somebody rather than a nobody. They must have sensed through her that God is kind, compassionate and forgiving. And so their presence there was a big ‘thank you’. I can understand the embarrassment of the sisters on two counts. First of all, they hadn’t a clue about the amazing pastoral outreach of this retired sister. Secondly they probably never counted on all these extra mouths to feed, hungry and all as they probably were.
If they were embarrassed it was nothing like the embarrassment that Simon the Pharisee had when this known sinner knelt at the feet of Jesus and started anointing his feet. It was certainly no place for a public sinner to show her face. But she was there for a definite reason. Like the winos in the story above, it was to thank Jesus. She is literally bursting with gratitude for the love that he’s shown toward people like her who go around branded with general scorn. And such love and forgiveness has changed her radically into a being in love. To everyone’s surprise, she kisses Jesus’ feet over and over and anoints them with a precious perfume.
Simon watches the scene, aghast with horror. A sinful woman touching Jesus in his own house! That’s unheard of: the man is clueless, no prophet of God! He needs to get that impure woman away from Jesus right away.
However, Jesus lets her touch him and lets himself be loved by the woman. She needs him more than anyone else there. With special tenderness he offers her God’s forgiveness, then invites her to discover within her heart a humble faith that is saving her. Jesus only wants her to live in peace: “Your sins are forgiven you…Your faith has saved you. Go in peace”.
What about you and me? What sort of welcome do we extend to Jesus, who comes with healing in his hands and forgiveness in his heart? Will Jesus speak those saving words to us? “Your sins are forgiven; your faith has saved you, go in peace.”
Sunday, 12 June 2016