To read the texts click on the texts: 2 Sam 12:7-10; Gal 2:16,19-21; Lk7:36-8:3
I was preaching in a Church one Sunday morning about the unconditional forgiveness of God and about God’s unfathomable mercy and love. In the course of my homily, I said that God forgives us before we sin; God forgives us after we sin; and God forgives us even when we are in the act of sinning. I insisted that God constantly and continuously forgives and loves. I also quoted 1 Jn 4:10 which says: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” This means that, no matter what we do or how far we stray, God will always take us back. After the final blessing, many parishioners came to ask me questions about the homily. One of them said; “Then, Father, does it mean that I can do whatever I want and be forgiven.” She probably thought I would say “No” but my answer was “Yes, yes, yes.”
The same question is raised and answered by the readings of today. The first reading and the Gospel both speak of the sinfulness of each one of us. They remind us that all of us, without exception, are sinners. The second reading answers the question of God’s unconditional forgiveness and mercy in one word: grace.
The attitude of King David in the first reading and that of Simon the Pharisee in the Gospel reading are similar. Both are unable to open themselves to receive God’s grace. There is a double consequence to their attitude. The first is that they see sin easily in the other but not in themselves. The second, and as a direct result of the first, is that they condemn the other and so, close themselves to receiving forgiveness and pardon.
David is indeed “the man” who is guilty of the sin brought out by Nathan in the parable. Yet, immersed as he is in his own sin, he cannot see it. This is why the initial emotions that well up in his heart are anger, indignation, and fury, and not repentance. He points his finger at the other, not realizing that three fingers are pointing back at him. This is also what Simon the Pharisee does. He is able to recognize that the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet is a sinner, and indeed she is. However, his self-righteousness and conceit does not allow him to see himself also as a sinner. He, like David, points a finger at her and through her, points at Jesus. Like Nathan, who points out David’s sin, Jesus points out to Simon where he falls short.
The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet in the Gospel text of today stands in contrast to both David and Simon. She is aware. She knows she is a sinner and thus, in need of grace. She knows she has fallen short and thus, has to repent. She knows that forgiveness from Jesus is assured and thus, she can love. Her act is an act of love because she has been forgiven. In other words, forgiveness is first and the consequence of that forgiveness is her reaching out in love.
This is what Paul means when he speaks of grace in the second reading of today. No one can demand God’s forgiveness. No one is worthy of receiving God’s forgiveness. No one can merit God’s forgiveness, mercy, and pardon simply because it is given freely and gratuitously. All the good that we do, all the benevolent acts that we perform and all the love that we share has its source in God’s unconditional love for us. God loved first, and so we are able to love. We live in the knowledge that God loves us, even when each of us is steeped in sin. God’s love is not given “because of” but “in spite of”.
Though many pages of scripture speak about this reality, there are so many who are not aware of this unrestricted and unreserved love of God. We continue to think that God’s love has to be earned and merited. We continue to think that we must be good for God to love us. We continue to think that God’s love will be given only when we are obedient and compliant. The truth, however, is exactly the opposite. The truth is that even the most lethal mortal sin is forgiven because of God’s magnanimity and generosity.
How then are we to respond? What are we to do? The best response is shown in the attitudes of the woman in the Gospel text of today and in the second reading from Paul. First, we must become aware of the reality that it is grace that saves, not our deeds. This means that we become aware of the fact that all that we do in love is not for reward but a consequence of our being loved. The woman in the Gospel text was able to love because she became aware of the forgiveness she had already received.
Second, because we have received such unconditional love we must, like Paul, be able to say that Christ lives in us. The consequence of Christ living in us is that we will never condemn others or point a finger at them. We will realize that we are all in the same boat and all in need of grace. Our attitude toward others (even if we know that they are sinners) must be one of empathy and concern. While on the one hand, we are called to be like Nathan and make others aware of their sin, on the other, we must also realize the danger of being like Simon and David, being blind to our own sin.
Finally, we are also called, like Jesus, to understand, understand, and understand again.