Sunday 17th June 2007 - Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Samuel 12: 7-10, 13; Galatians 2:16, 19-21; Luke 7:36 - 8:3
In the Creed we very clearly proclaim, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins”. This is basic Catholic doctrine, we believe in forgiveness. And forgiveness is what Christ is all about; he came to bring us forgiveness.
We have two great examples of forgiveness in our readings today. In the first reading God forgave King David for his great sin. David had put Uriah the Hittite into the line of battle so that he would be killed so he could take his wife for himself. David was caught up in lust for Bathsheba and this led him to do away with Uriah so that he could possess her. The Prophet Nathan was the only one brave enough to face the King with the accusation of murder and David saw that he had sinned and repented.
In the Gospel we have the story of the woman we generally call Mary Magdalene, although in the text she is not in fact given a name. One interesting thing is the reaction of Simon the Pharisee who says to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who this woman is.’
What wonderful irony: Jesus knows the woman far better than anyone; yes, he knows her sins but he knows far better the depth of her repentance.
But he also knows Simon far better than Simon would like. He knows his pride and his self-righteousness which Jesus judges far more harshly than the woman’s so-called moral lapses.
Simon had invited Jesus to this supper in order to interrogate him, to sit in judgment of him. That’s why he didn’t give Jesus water to cleanse his feet or give him a kiss of greeting or give him oil to honor him.
An interesting point of comparison in the two stories is the actual moment of forgiveness. David is forgiven the moment he expresses repentance.
In the case of the woman, it is not recorded that she had ever spoken to Jesus before, yet she felt cleansed before she even came into the house. Jesus says to Simon, ‘Her sins must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love.’
She was forgiven the moment she repented and Jesus confirms this by saying, ‘Your sins are forgiven, your faith has saved you.’
Repentance, the admission of guilt, is crucial; it is the necessary precondition of forgiveness. We can imagine God waiting for us to repent so that he can pour out upon us a great wave of mercy. He, like the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son, is ever waiting for us, ever longing for us to return to him so that he can bestow on us his unlimited mercy and forgiveness.
God will not force his mercy upon us; he waits only for the first glimmer of repentance, the first acknowledgement of our need for forgiveness.
The Second Reading, from 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 woman who was a prostitute. 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. Far from being scolded, she is rewarded for her faith.
By gathering around this table we are implicitly admitting that we seek God’s forgiveness and that we hunger and thirst for his unlimited fountain of mercy. All that is left for us is to name our sins and to claim his mercy.