15 June 2013

The Expansiveness of God's Mercy (11th Week in Ordinary Time)

Simon is right – if Jesus were a prophet, and only a prophet, he would know what type of woman had touched him.  And he likely would have told her to get lost.  The very audacity of this unnamed woman in Luke’s Gospel is incredible: she barges into a private dinner party and proceeds to interrupt the conversation taking place between some curious hosts and the guest.  .  Yet for the Pharisees who are very curious to find out just what Jesus is made of, this is a perfect situation: it is Jesus’ chance to prove to them that he gets it: he gets that there are those who are in and out, that he gets that there are some people with whom one should associate and others with whom one should not. 

Simon, however, will be the one who is disappointed because Jesus does not play the role of the proper guest.  In just a few minutes, Jesus proves that he isn’t even a prophet. We know the truth: Jesus is much more than that!

Today’s Gospel places the incredible, vast and inexhaustible mercy of God on display.  But this isn’t just an idea – the mercy of God is not just something floating out there, something that we dream about but never find.  This is because we find God’s mercy completely and absolutely within the person of Jesus himself.   Jesus shows us what happens when we approach God aware that we have fallen.  We hear: “Your sins are forgiven.” 

In today’s first reading, the prophet Nathan speaks on behalf of God.  He approaches King David, who seeks forgiveness for a terrible crime: sending a friend of his to death in order to cover up an affair.  The prophet, in turn, tells the sorrowing king that “the Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.”

Nathan acts as a prophet is supposed to: he tells us what God wants us to know.  David had sinned; he asked for forgiveness; Nathan passes along the message that God has forgiven him.
In Jesus’ case, dining at Simon’s house, there is something much greater here.  Yes: Jesus himself says, “Your sins are forgiven.”  Not, God has heard you – not you have a chance at being forgiven.  Rather, because Jesus is the Son of God – God himself – He freely extends the mercy of God to those who seek it.  The message of today’s Gospel teaches us that when Jesus is involved, no one is beyond God’s mercy. No one is beyond forgiveness.  At the same time, this means that we are called as Christians to seek out God’s mercy AND serve as agents of reconciliation with and for others.  This suggests that when it is hard to forgive and give up asking for what is rightfully ours, we must go to Jesus in prayer and ask him to teach our hearts how to forgive as He did and does.

When we know we have wronged others, and we do not know how to ask for forgiveness because it is so entirely embarrassing, we must go to Jesus and ask him to teach us to be humble as was the woman in today’s Gospel.

All of this strength is to be found in prayer, surely – and also in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Reconciliation is the place where we may come to know that our request for forgiveness is never ignored. The Lord is never outdone in mercy.  I am not ashamed to admit that looking back on my life, I’m consider myself a living example of just how caring God is to a sinner.

On this Father’s Day, I cannot leave you without a mention of my dad.  He coached me in baseball from the time I was three until I was eighteen. After a particularly bad time at bat or a pitching appearance, he would pat me on the shoulder and say, “Kid, baseball is a game of redeeming features.”  He meant, of course, that each opportunity on a baseball diamond was another chance – a new beginning.  His advice would help, but it would be up to me to step back into the batter’s box or to take the mound again.  So too is it in our faith: because nothing that has happened in the past may separate us from the mercy of God.  We are the only ones who have the power to declare that God’s forgiveness is not strong enough – and anyone who tells us that we cannot be forgiven for one thing or another are liars.  Our God doesn’t give us second changes: his mercy wipes the past away and gives us a new beginning.

In today’s Gospel, it is the sinful woman who understands exactly what she has in front of her: the Son of God, the One for whom forgiveness is natural.  She shows us the sensible response to situations where our lives have gone astray, call upon the help of our Lord.  In fact, let’s not call her the sinful woman, but rather the sensible one.  Simon, on the other hand, is left hanging in the story: how does he respond?  We hear the sensible woman goes away with a promise of salvation and a wish of peace from Jesus. Simon, on the other hand, fades away into the narrative without so much as a mention.  What becomes of Simon?  Who knows?  The better question is what will become of us?  Let us forgive others as we have been forgiven and the answer will be clear.  Clear, because it comes directly from the mouth of Jesus: our faith will have saved us.

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