Today’s readings deal with people who made a mess of their lives, received mercy and love from God and their personal response to that mercy and love. King David misused his powers as king, committed adultery, and had the husband of the woman he slept with murdered on the battle field. Faced with his crime and sin, David admitted his crime-filled sin and said “I have sinned against the Lord,” only to told, ‘the Lord has put away your sin.’ David writes his beautiful psalm “have mercy on me O God, have mercy on me – against you alone have I sinned what is evil in your sight I have done – create in me a clean heart, put an upright spirit within me.” By God’s grace David turned his life around.
We all know Paul’s history. He had a deep hatred for those who followed Christ. He wanted to put them in prison. Then Paul had his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and his life was turned around. From that graced moment Paul would say of himself, “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me and the life I live, I live trusting in the Son of God Who loved me and gave his life for me.” For the rest of his life Paul endured shipwrecks, flogging, stoning, prison and death to share with everyone the merciful love he personally experienced in his encounter with Jesus.
We have the gospel story of the Pharisee inviting Jesus into his home. He felt he was doing such a favor to Jesus that he never bothered to show him the common courtesies of the time, such as the kiss of peace and washing his dusty feet. Then we have this woman with not too good of a reputation brazenly coming into the house and doing for Jesus what the host neglected to do – washing his feet and kissing him. Simon is shocked that Jesus would let this woman touch him. Jesus tells Simon a short story to prove a point. Two debtors are both forgiven their debt. The one who owed the most is the most grateful to his creditor. The host Simon really saw himself in no need for Jesus’ forgiveness; in fact, he acts as if he’s doing Jesus a favor by inviting Him into his home. Simon had no concept of what was going on in the heart of this woman so Jesus lets him in on the secret; it’s not that the woman loved Jesus and therefore He forgave her sins. It’s just the opposite: He forgave her sins and so she loved Him – overwhelmed by the graciousness of Jesus she loved him with all her heart. As Jesus tries to explain to Simon, “Her many sins have been forgiven her that is the reason she shows me such love that is the reason her love is so great. Jesus tells Simon, ‘If she had been forgiven only a little, her love would be small, as your love is small.’
Have you ever had the experience of hurting a family member or a friend with a hurt so great that it causes a deep rift in your relationship? You know you’ve done wrong, you feel shamed at what you’ve done, but you get the courage to go to that person and ask for a forgiveness you feel you don’t deserve. Your friend embraces you and tells you “everything is ok, let’s put it behind us and get on with living.” You’re stunned by such generosity, such acceptance, such love and you grow in a deeper appreciation of that friend and what he or she means to you. Like the woman in the gospel, because you have been forgiven so much, you love so much more in return.
The same thing can happen in the sacrament of reconciliation when you have the courage to un-burden yourself to a priest and externalize the sin that burdens you, and hear the wonderful words of absolution, “I absolve you of your sins”. Sensing that forgiveness gives you a determination to try harder to be the kind of person you want to be and Christ calls you to be.
The same can be said about our sense of gratitude. There’s been a lot in the papers about students’ sense of ‘entitlement’; ‘I have a right to a passing mark even though I wrote a crummy exam.’ Maybe we all think we are entitled to God’s love and thinking so, we are weak on any sense of gratitude to God for the countless gifts with which our lives are blessed. We’ve forgotten the words of John, “this is the wonder, not that we love God, but that God first loved us and sent His Son to take away our sins.” I think that it is only when we take the time to really think about the boundless love of God we celebrate in this Eucharist – Christ Jesus handing over His very life for us on the cross – this is my body, this is my blood, this is my life given in love for you – that we can come to that attitude of gratitude I’ve spoken of so often.
The message of today’s scripture is that because we’ve been forgiven so much, because God has blessed our lives so much, our response should be that of the woman in the gospel – this is reason enough to thank and love Christ in return. As we continue to celebrate this Mass, we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we be blessed with the insight to know how much we are loved by God, forgiven by God, and, in response to such goodness, try to live more faithful and loving lives.