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The 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 12, 2016

      Can stories about sin and sinners be good news?  It certainly wouldn’t seem so, but today’s readings suggest otherwise.

     First, there was King David’s story in the first reading. It was briefly told with a lot left out.  All we got, really, was the face-off and the finish.  In the face-off, the prophet Nathan reminded David of all that God had done for him and he then confronted him with his two great sins of adultery and murder. You remember the story, I’m sure -- how David fell in love with Bathsheba, the wife of his trusted soldier, Uriah, and in order to get Uriah out of the way, David had him sent to the front lines where he was killed in battle.

     We didn’t get all of that in today’s reading; we only got enough to be reminded of the enormity of David’s sins. But the story didn’t end with David’s sins.  Nathan’s courageous confronting of the king hit home: David acknowledged his sins and repented and the story ended with Nathan’s absolution: “The Lord has forgiven your sin. You shall not die.”  Note that, as so often in the scriptures, there was no minimizing of sin in the story, but God’s mercy turned out to be far greater than the sins. It always does. That’s the good news.

     There was similar good news in the story of the sinful woman in Luke’s gospel. In this story, we are left to guess what the woman’s sin was. All we know for sure is that she was known around town as a sinner and that she dared to crash a party in the house of a leading Pharisee where Jesus was a dinner guest.

     Well, we do know a couple of other things.  We know that Jesus’ host, Simon the Pharisee, was greatly troubled by the woman’s presence and that Jesus was not.  Simon was not only troubled by it, he was horrified. And the fact that Jesus allowed the woman to actually touch him and to wash and caress his feet when he should have shunned her – this convinced Simon that Jesus was no prophet. A prophet should be able to read people’s hearts, after all. Any prophet worth his salt would know what sort of woman this was.

     But Jesus was more of a prophet than Simon gave him credit for. He was not only able to read Simon’s heart before Simon ever uttered a word, he was also able to read the woman’s heart and see the repentance there.

     Then the prophet turns teacher. Jesus tells a little parable about a lender who forgave someohe then asks Simon which of the two debtors is going to love him more. Obviously it’s the one forgiven the larger debt and Simon acknowledges this. Then Jesus tells Simon something he couldn’t have wanted to hear: this woman, he says, has been forgiven.  The reason she has shown great love here - washing my feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, and caressing them with her kisses – the reason she has shown great love is that she has been forgiven a great deal, just like the debtor of the parable.

     That makes sense, doesn’t it?  Forgiveness begets love in the one forgiven. Think about that. Isn’t that your experience?  It’s certainly mine.  But, you know? for a long time a different translation of that parable gave it an entirely different meaning. Instead of “she has shown great love because her many sins have been forgiven,” we got, “her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.”  And that’s a whole different thing. In the first version, the woman loves because she’s been forgiven; in the second, she is forgiven because she loves – and that would seem to imply that she was able to earn or buy forgiveness with her love.

     I’m not splitting hairs here or playing word games, my friends. The question is: can God’s forgiveness ever be earned or bought?  And the answer is no. Not even with love. God’s forgiveness is pure gift, freely given. All the love in the world cannot buy God’s forgiveness. On the other hand, when God forgives, love and gratitude well up and overflow in the one forgiven. In other words, we love because we are forgiven, and the more we are forgiven, the more loving we are likely to be!

     Shortly after he was elected, Pope Francis devoted his Sunday address to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square to the subject of forgiveness. He told a story about the time a woman came up to him after Mass and asked him to hear her confession. She was an old woman so he figured she couldn’t have much to confess.  He asked her, “Why confession if you haven’t sinned?” And she said to him, “We have all sinned.”  Then he teased her a bit, “But what if the Lord will not forgive you?”  And she said to him, “The Lord forgives everyone. If the Lord didn’t forgive everyone, the world would not exist!”

     Pope Francis commented about what a good theologian the woman was and then concluded his little talk by reminding the people, “God never tires of forgiving us. Never! We are the ones who tire if Pope Francis were to comment on today’s gospel, he would add, ‘and the more we are forgiven, the more loving we are likely to be.’

     I return to where I started: stories about sin and sinners can be good news.  Really good news!  So good, in fact, that we can now approach the Eucharist with confidence, knowing that we are coming to the One who said, “Her many sins have been forgiven. That is why she has shown great love.” My friends, may we, too, show great love, we who have been forgiven so much!       

Father Michael G. Ryan

  

 

 

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