Regarding baptism, the theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, reflected:
“The Church does not dispense the sacrament of baptism in order to acquire for herself an increase in membership but in order to consecrate a human being to God and to communicate to that person the divine gift of birth from God.”
Now presiding at baptisms has always brought me great joy. There is excitement in viewing proud parents, doting grandparents, and curious siblings enjoy the reality that new life has descended upon them. With new life having entered their family “mix,” a change has occurred. There are new responsibilities and hope for the future. And along with these, there is great mystery, too! For as the young child receives the Sacrament of Baptism and is anointed so that he/she might share in the triple mission of Christ: as “priest, prophet, and king,” it is though God holds him/her in the palm of His hand and then releases them into His creation—to become? Well, that is the mystery.
For the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the readings from Sacred Scripture (2 Sam 12:7-10, 13; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:16, 19-21; Luke 7:36-50) reveal that sin has entered the story in a rather powerful way with both King David and the “sinful” woman serving as its witnesses. Thankfully, however, God’s forgiveness and mercy also find a place.
Prior to addressing King David’s sin, however, it is beneficial to first contemplate his “anointing.” As described in the First Book of Samuel (1 Sam 16:1-13), we might even think of it as the day God held David in His hand and released him into His creation to form an important future. Now if we remember, the Lord had instructed Samuel to fill his horn with oil and be on his way to search for a new king. In doing so, the Lord told Samuel to seek out Jesse of Bethlehem, where he would appoint from among his sons—a king. When you stand among his sons, the Lord told Samuel, “I’ll point him out to you—so that you can anoint him.” But, there is one more thing: “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him.” And so, one by one, Jesse’s sons came before Samuel. But each time, the Lord said, “No.” Still with no king, the Lord then prompted Samuel to ask Jesse: “Are these all the sons you have?” In response, Jesse informed Samuel that there was one more, “the youngest, who was tending the sheep.” And as the young David approached Samuel, “The Lord said: There—anoint him, for this is the one!”
And from that launch pad, similar to the newly baptized child, King David went “into the future.” But as we know and to paraphrase the late Paul Harvey, that would not be “the end of the story.” In 2 Samuel (12:7-10, 13), the great king had become rather “full of himself.” After committing adultery with another man’s wife, he also instructed that her husband be killed. As sin goes, David had fallen into it.
But at the bottom of it, something else happened. David recognized his sin—and turned toward the Lord. For forgiveness! In addressing the Prophet Nathan, he declared: “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan’s reply: “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die.”
A question, or three, to be exact. Like King David, how many of us have sinned? Like King David, how many of us have sinned, acknowledged our sins before God, and have been forgiven? Or, unlike King David, how many of us have sinned and still carry them around with us? If you are like me, your answer is likely to be—yes. And so, this Gospel passage is for you.
In Luke’s Gospel (7:36-50), Jesus Christ, the Anointed One, the One who anointed you and me at our baptism, had entered Simon the Pharisee’s house, reclined at table, and came to be ministered to by a “sinful” woman. What does she do? After approaching Jesus with an alabaster flask of ointment, she begins to weep and bathe His feet with her tears. She then wipes them with her hair, kisses them, and anoints them with the ointment. And it is at this point that I envision Jesus the Divine Physician seated in one of those twirling chairs that doctors make use of in examination rooms.
Jesus’ first pivot is to Simon the Pharisee, one who has “kept the Law” and must be horrified that this “sinful” woman has made her way into his house. By this time, Jesus has heard his legalistic mumbling: “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” But Jesus quickly reminds him that: “When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment.” And then Jesus pivots toward the woman. With his back now turned to Simon, he nevertheless addresses him. “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.”
In experiencing this Gospel story, we know that this sinful woman has been forgiven of her sins. Jesus has told us so. She is forgiven because she was unafraid to acknowledge to Jesus that which He already knew: That she was a sinner. That she was in need of forgiveness. That she needed to set the record straight before she could move forward in peace—and in love. And after receiving forgiveness, she shows her love for God, is changed, and is now able to continue on the divine path that God has set before her. Her sins are gone.
But what about you and me—God’s anointed ones? To recall those three questions mentioned earlier: Have we sinned? Have we sinned, acknowledged our sins before God, and received forgiveness? Or, because we are proud, unwilling to confess our sins, and seek forgiveness from God, do we still carry them around with us?