(Poor Recording Quality - Visiting Priest)
Fr. Paul's Homily
Years ago a religious talk show hostess was interviewing a new believer. The new believer had come from the wrong side of the tracks--economically, socially, morally, and spiritually. As he gave his testimony, this man, who had seen it all and done it all continually thanked God for the change God had made in his life. “I can’t express,” he said, “the gratitude I feel that God has changed my life.”
The talk show hostess knew where he was coming from--for she, too, had walked on life’s wild side before coming to Jesus. She said, “I know what you mean. Every day that I live I thank him for [changing my life].”
Then she added the statement: “You know what I’ve noticed though? People who have always been in the church, always done the right thing, always been prim and proper, don’t know how to give thanks to God. In fact, I’ve noticed that they are prone to complain because God hasn’t done even MORE for them.”
I find this story disturbing, yet true. When we have deeply lost our way in life, committing sin after sin, we understand God’s Mercy so much better for we know how much we need it. Humility leads to forgiveness, and forgiveness leads to gratitude. But, sometimes when we have always tried to walked the path of God we fail to realize all that God has done for us. Let’s talk about this.
Our story in the Gospel today surrounds three individuals: Jesus, a Pharisee, and a woman, known to be a sinner. Jesus is dining at the Pharisee’s house and a woman enters who has a bad reputation. Apparently, when famous rabbis would visit a home, it was not uncommon for others to walk in to hear the words of wisdom from the rabbi. So, additional visitors to a special dinner at a pharisee’s home would not have been unusual.
But this woman does not simply sit and listen. Rather she stands at the feet of Jesus and begins to weep, with her tears falling on the feet of Jesus. She uses her hair to dry his feet, kissing his feet as she does so. Remember that in Jesus’ day people did not sit at tables to eat, but rather reclined on the floor, supported on one arm with their feet extending out behind them. Thus, for a person standing behind Jesus, it would have been easy to reach his feet.
When the Pharisee sees what is happening he is amazed (or disgusted) that Jesus, a prophet, would allow this sinful woman to touch him. We do not know what her sin was. Was she a prostitute…could be. Was she a woman who lived on the streets and was always considered ‘unclean’ according to the Mosaic Law…could be. But she is a sinner and nobody, including Jesus denies this.
Jesus is well aware of the actions of the woman and the reaction of his Pharisee host. So, Jesus asked a question of the Pharisee, using a story. Jesus says, “Two people owe a large amount to a creditor; one owes 500 day’s wages, another 50. Since neither can repay, the creditor forgives both debts. Which of them will love him more?” Simon, the Pharisee, responds, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt is forgiven.”
Jesus then compares the Pharisee to the sinner woman (I am sure the Pharisee was aghast to be compared to the woman, a sinner!). It is clear that the Pharisee has not shown Jesus the simple gestures of hospitality, while the woman has shown extreme examples of her sorrow, her love, her gratitude. The conclusion, according to Jesus: “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Do we know the forgiving mercy of God? How have I experienced this?
First, we need to name our sin and acknowledge it. This is shown in our first reading where King David has sinned greviously by having relations with another man’s wife and then, having the man killed. By the use of a story, the prophet Nathan accuses David of his sin. David could have denied it; he could have had the prophet imprisoned. But he didn’t. David said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
How hard it is to admit our sins. Our first impulse is to blame someone or excuse our actions: if we lust after another we blame our spouse because he/she is not affectionate enough; if we gossip about another we say, ‘I’m only telling the truth’; if we steal a few small things, we say we deserve it. It is true that factors can play into our sins and sometimes our guilt is lessened by these factors, but that does not remove the reality of sin.
I think today, more than any other time in history, it is difficult for people to owe their sin. We can identify other people’s sins, but not our own. To know God’s forgiveness, we need to know what we need forgiveness for.
We are able to acknowledge our sins when we are in the Presence of Love. I am intrigued by the outpouring of emotion given by the woman in the Gospel BEFORE she hears Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven you.” That emotion must spring from a profound believe that Jesus cared about her and had compassion for her in her situation. I seriously doubt of she would have approached a pharisee with this emotion because she would have been judged harshly by him. But Jesus was different. She knew she was loved; she knew he cared about her as a person, not as a problem to be solved.
Pope Francis has said over and over again that the face of God is mercy. God’s very character is one of mercy since mercy flows from profound Love and God is the very essence of Love. God wants to forgive us; he is dying to forgiveness; he longs to forgive us.
Sin separates and divides; love unifies. God wants to have us with him…now and for eternity. The gift of his Son on the cross is the sign that God will do anything to have us united in love with Him.
So who are we in this Gospel story? Are we the pharisee who stands apart from Jesus and who offers harsh judgment to the woman who approaches the Lord. We do this anytime we talk with judgment about another person.
Am I the sinful woman? Am I the one who comes to the Lord very aware of our sins, both large and small? Am I the one who comes to Jesus, saddened by the sins, but refreshed with hope in finding someone who understands and cares? I hope I am the woman!
Or, might I be Christ Jesus, Himself? Can I see others with eyes of deep compassion? Can I sit with the rich or poor; sinner or righteous; friend or foe? Do I ache to bring healing and reconciliation to all?
My friends, we are tempted to be the pharisee because it is the easiest path to take. But in my humanity, we need to hear the call of the sinful woman. WE all need mercy, whether we have murdered in act or in thought; whether we have committed adultery in act or in thought; whether we have damaged another in act or in word. And in our need for mercy we realize how much love is contained on that cross before us; total, complete Love.
But can we also be Christ Jesus, too?! With his Grace, and only with his Grace, we can!