A favorite technique I use to discern what God is telling us in Sacred Scripture is to give attention to the themes found in the bible. The one that strikes me today is that of Endings and Beginnings. Springtime is a time of endings and beginnings. Graduations, weddings, anniversaries, and so forth are upon us during this time of the year. As in nature and so also in the bible things are ending and other things are beginning.
Baptism is one such event. Getting married is another. Certainly graduation is a celebration of ending and beginning. When a son or daughter marries mom and dad have to let go of their child. When a son or daughter graduates there is a letting go that involves the parental loss of their school community, the families of classmates, along with the diminished presence of their now grown up son or daughter.
There is another ending and beginning hidden in today’s scripture readings. At first these readings appear to be all about forgiveness and in fact they are. But hidden within them is the reality of letting go of sin and the beginning of a new life free of sin. With forgiveness I can let go of what causes me to sin. The power of God’s forgiveness allows me to be freed from my past and likewise gives me the freedom to be what He wants me to be and to be the person I really want to be. Forgiveness is both and ending and a new beginning.
I want now is to give special attention to the Responsorial Psalm in today’s liturgy. The words are taken from Psalm 32, words in which the psalmist cries out to God for forgiveness. In doing so he is asking God to put the past behind and lead him into a new beginning, a new beginning in sinlessness. “Lord,” he cries out, “forgive the wrong I have done and I will sing glad songs of freedom.
Blessed is the one whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered.
Blessed the man to whom the Lord imputes not guilt, in whose spirit there is no guile.
I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not.
I said, “I confess my faults to the Lord,” and you took away the guilt of my sin.
You are my shelter; from distress you will preserve me; with glad cries of freedom you will ring me round.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you just; exult, all you upright of heart.
R. Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
In the first reading (Samuel 12:7-10) we learn of King David’s terrible sin. It was a heinous sin in which David arranges the death of Uriah, one of his loyal military officers, in order that David might cover up his committing adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. David deserved the worst of punishments but when God’s prophet, Nathan, confronts him, David repents. Accepting God’s mercy and acting in the power of God’s forgiveness David goes on to become one of the greatest figures in Jewish history and their greatest king, known now throughout history as King David. Certainly David’s new beginning was a new life. This should cause us to ask: “What sin can bar us from God’s love if we repent and ask for forgiveness as David did?”
In today’s second reading (Galatians 2:16, 19-21) we find St. Paul, a former Pharisee and doctor or teacher of the Jewish laws of Moses, telling the Christians of the newly founded Christian community in Galatia that the Mosaic laws set forth how people can sin but do not tell us how God forgives. Laws set boundaries but do not lead us back into God’s love, much less give us God’s merciful and forgiving love. In other words, to put it simply, laws can’t give us God’s forgiveness, something the Pharisee in today’s Gospel reading fully understood. His problem, however, was that while he lived by the law he did not live in love.
So let’s take a look at today’s Gospel (Luke 7:36-50) account. I need to point out here that it was customary at the time of Jesus to offer water to guests who entered homes for a meal in order to wash the dust and dirt off their feet along with water to wash their faces and hands. This was a normal and expected courtesy. Here, in this episode, the Pharisee offered no water to Jesus even though Jesus was an invited guest. It was a snub, a snub that in effect said “You are dirt as far as I’m concerned.”
Normally a warm greeting with a kiss on the cheek was tendered. You see that even today among people in the Middle East when they meet and greet each other. Upon Jesus arrival into the Pharisee’s home He was given no kiss, no sign of closeness or friendship. In other words He was told He was an outsider. The message was: “You’ll get no warm welcome and no respect here!”
Anointing with oil was another gesture of hospitality. Actually it was a kind of perfume. In those hot, dusty regions you can imagine the smells that must have accumulated in the clothes of travelers. Perfumed oil was a way of making the guests more comfortable. Anointing with oil also had a healing quality to take care of muscle aches, pains, and weaknesses.
In contrast we find the sinful woman, however, honored Jesus with these common courtesies and crowned them all with her humble love. She was an outcast to be scorned and shunned by the doctor of the Law, but because of her love, she her sins were forgiven by Jesus, the Son of God. In the merciful love and forgiveness of God, graces not found in the law, she was given a new lease on live, a new beginning in a new life.
Evidently many women (and women didn’t enjoy much status in the culture of that time) likewise came to realize and experience what this woman did. St. Luke takes particular care to point that out at the conclusion of today’s gospel account, mentioning a number of them by name.
When I reflect on today’s surrounding culture, presented as it is in our media and observing it in the attitudes of many, I can’t help but wonder how many people are really interested in being close to God or even in being forgiven. Do you find many people who show any interest in being forgiven of their faults, their offenses, their sins? How many would see themselves in the character of the woman presented in today’s Gospel account? And as for love, how many people do you know who love Jesus boldly, as boldly as the woman in today’s gospel?
There’s much in today’s reading for us to reflect upon. In doing so, if you are confronted by your faults, failures, and sins, then let love, not fear, move you. Be like the woman we just heard about. If you haven’t received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Sacrament of Forgiveness lately you should. There’s nothing quite like a fresh start and a new beginning in God’s good graces.
In a secular America that is free of sin by denying that any consensual activity cannot possibly be sinful, what need is there for forgiveness?