In today's Gospel from Luke Chapter 7 we are told about the encounter between Jesus and a woman who was a sinner. This takes place in the house of a Pharisee. Jesus has been invited to come and eat with the Pharisee.
The woman of the city, this sinner, has heard that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee's house. So she enters the house and kneels at the feet of Jesus. Weeping, she begins to bathe His feet with her tears and drying His feet with her hair. Then kissing His feet she anoints them with an alabaster jar of ointment.
We can imagine the reaction of the self-righteous Pharisee. He is shocked! How can this woman, who is well known as a sinner dare to touch Jesus? Doesn't Jesus know who she is? If she touches Him then Jesus would be ritually unclean.
Jesus responds by telling a simple story of two debtors, of whom one was forgiven a very small debt and the other was forgiven a very large one. Jesus puts a question to the Pharisee as to which of these two debtors was more grateful, the one who was forgiven little or the one who was forgiven the greater debt?
The point of the parable is that forgiveness always brings the loving response that we call gratitude, and that obviously the more generous the forgiveness is the more intense the response is likely to be. Jesus now applies this lesson to the woman and the Pharisee. The Pharisee gave Jesus no water to wash His feet, whereas the woman bathed His feet in her tears and dried them with her hair. The Pharisee gave Jesus no kiss, but the woman from the time she came in, she has not stopped kissing Jesus' feet. The Pharisee did not anoint Jesus' head with oil, however, the woman anointed His feet.
Jesus said “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; because she has shown great love.” “ Woman, your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace”
What Jesus was saying to the Pharisee was that this woman, despite her sinful past, was much closer to God than the Pharisee was, because she was able to recognize her sinfulness and the necessity of God’s mercy.
Today's first reading tells us about God's prophet Nathan confronting David for adultery and murder.
David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers, and then engineered the death of her husband so that he might continue his relationship with Bathsheba. David did what displeased the Lord. David, after being abundantly blessed by God, went from neglect of duty, to lust, to adultery, to deceit, to treachery, to conspiracy, and finally to murder.
Upon being confronted by God’s prophet Nathan, David, sincerely and humbly confesses his guilt. David is profoundly repentant, and having confessed his sin to Nathan with the result that the Lord forgives his sinfulness, and remits the worst, though not all of his punishment.
The entire story is both a severe warning to human pride and, at the same time, a gracious assurance of the availability of divine mercy to those repentant sinners who sincerely confess their sins.
This is the classic Old Testament statement of the pattern of self-examination in the light of God's law. Examination was followed by confession of the sin as an offense against God.
It concludes with the confessor's declaration that because of the person’s repentance and confession - God has put away the sin.
Nathan tells David that God has put away his sin – he is forgiven his sins. However, God tells David through Nathan that there is still a debt to pay even though his sins are forgiven – the Lord tells him that because of his sin – “the sword shall never depart from your house.” The damage must be repaired.
As it was in the Old Testament so it is today. We follow basically the same process when we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Sacrament of Confession. The Sacrament of Reconciliation given to us by Jesus consists of examination of conscience beforehand, an act of repentance, confession of sins to Jesus through the priest, with the intention to make reparation. The priest then gives us absolution and our sins are taken away and we leave to do whatever penance we have been assigned.
Like David, God has forgiven our sins through the action of the priest and like David we are assigned a penance. Remember, even though David’s sins are forgiven, God told him there is still a price to pay and he is told “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised Me”. Even though God has forgiven David’s sin God still assigns him a punishment – a penance if you will. Why?
Because the reality of God’s Mercy is always connected to the reality of Justice. We really don’t have trueMercy without justice.
The forgiveness of sins is the sign of God’s Mercy but the penance assigned is the expression of God’s Justice. God is a merciful but just God.
God is not vengeful and unforgiving, but the damage caused by sin must be repaired, because the structure of God’s good creation was damaged.
This penance that we have been assigned by the priest of course is only symbolic in that it could never make reparation for our sins. Only Jesus Christ can do that. Jesus came to pay for our sins. We could never pay the price. Only Jesus can.
We are not able to repair the damages caused by our sins since we have sinned against Almighty God, so only the Son of God, the Omnipotent and creative Word of God can “make everything new”, only Christ can re-create the nature broken by our sins.
However, it is not possible to do this without our participation. And this is the sense of the penance we receive in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Sacrament of Confession.
This penance allows us to participate in the reparation made by Christ. That is mercy. That is justice.
And what is the reaction of the repentant person whose sins are forgiven? Today’s responsorial psalm tells us about the joy we should feel in our hearts after we have sincerely confessed our sins to the priest and been given absolution – the assurance that God has heard our plea and forgiven our sins.
Psalm 32 tells us about the joy of those whose sins are forgiven, who have confessed their transgressions to the Lord and were forgiven the guilt of their sins and now they find their refuge in the Lord.
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven whose sin is covered. Blessed is the one to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit. I acknowledged my sin to you and I did not hide my iniquity; I said “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Did David confess his sins directly to the Lord or did David confess his sins to God through God’s representative, Nathan. What does Scripture say? Scripture is very clear. David said to Nathan “I have sinned against the Lord” and then Nathan said to David “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die”.
In hearing the words of absolution with our own ears from God’s minister, the priest in the confessional - we have the wonderful assurance that God has heard our confession and taken away our sin. God’s knows human nature – He knows of our need to be assured of forgiveness, He knows what comfort it will be to hear those words of forgiveness.
That is why we confess our sins to God’s minister a priest, because according to Holy Scripture that’s the way God wants it to be. That is why the Lord instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation. So that we might mysteriously participate in Christ’s redemptive action, be forgiven our transgressions and know that we are forgiven when we hear the words of forgiveness and receive our assigned penance.
God does not want to condemn us but rather to give us the opportunity to receive His forgiveness.
In his book “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” the late Great Pope John Paul II wrote and I quote:
“…convincing the world of the existence of sin is not the same as condemning it for sinning.” God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." Convincing the world of sin means creating the conditions for its salvation. Awareness of our own sinfulness, including that which is inherited, is the first condition for salvation; the next is the confession of this sin before God, who desires only to receive this confession so that He can save man. To save means to embrace and lift up with redemptive love, with love that is always greater than any sin.” Unquote.
We have a choice. We can be like the Pharisee who obviously felt he had no need for forgiveness maybe because he felt he had no sin. Or, we can be like the woman in the Gospel, humbly acknowledging our sinfulness.
David confessed his sin to God’s representative, the prophet Nathan. That is how God wanted David to be forgiven – through the actions and words of His minister Nathan. God’s prophet Nathan spoke to David. David acknowledged his sin to Nathan.
If it was not for that encounter with Nathan, David would never have known for sure that God had forgiven him and that God required more from him namely “that the sword should never leave his house”?
In today’s Scripture readings Jesus places a challenge before us.
God did not speak directly to David but rather spoke to him through His minister Nathan.
God does not speak directly to us either but rather speaks to us through His minister the priest.
And that is the challenge the Lord gives us today.
Do we want to hear with our own ears the words of words of Jesus “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven.”
When was the last time we heard the words of forgiveness spoken to us in the confessional?
God bless you.
Deacon Bernie Ouellette