Mar. 29, 2017

ELEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, C.

MAN'S JUDGMENT CAP VS. GOD'S CROWN OF FORGIVENESS 

The two images created in both the first reading and the gospel of today give us a picture of two contrasts: the mercy of God and the judgment of man. Man is full of judgment, but God's forgiveness supersedes human judgment and condemning attitude. 

In the first reading, David's actions fit correctly into the church's definition of what constitutes mortal sin namely: (1)The object of David's sin is a grave matter (2)David possesses full knowledge that the act is sinful and (3)David gives his full consent to the sin. The prophet Nathan marshals out David's case this way, "You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, taken his wife for your own, and killed him with the sword of the Ammonites". The preceding chapters of second book of Samuel tell us that David was overcome by concupiscence of the flesh. He desires Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, sleeps with her. Bathsheba becomes pregnant for David. David tries to cover his first sin of lust, conceives of taking over Uriah's wife completely. Since he is the king, David orders that Uriah be put at the war front to die, that way he will be free to marry the woman as wife (cf. 2Sam.11). That was what prompted Nathan to expose David's sins and marshal out the consequences from God. Those sins are really great- lust, covetousness, injustice, hypocrisy, murder. David was guilty of everything grievous and deserved condemnation for sure. 

Meanwhile, David's judgment is reversed by a singular statement after having come back to his senses, "I have sinned against the Lord". This brings us to the subjects of sin, repentance, forgiveness, mercy and gratitude in relation to our faith in God. David sins. He's exposed. He acknowledges his sins. He feels terrible for his offenses. David asks for forgiveness. The prophet assures him of God's mercy thus, "The Lord for his part, forgives your sin; you are not to die" (2Sam.12:13). "The Lord is compassionate and love, slow to anger and rich in faithful love; his indignation does not last for ever, nor his resentment remain for all time; he does not treat us as our sins deserve, nor repay us as befits our offenses (Ps.103:8-10). 

In the gospel, we see a more dramatic image of sin, forgiveness and gratitude. The Pharisee who invites Jesus to dine in his house is apparently a good man. He needs to prove that by associating with Jesus. He organizes a feast for Christ, expresses his commitment in keeping the commandments. Unfortunately, this woman crashes in to spoil his show. This man must have been scandalized at the sight of this woman in his well packaged stainless party for Jesus. Scripture describes this woman as "a woman who had a bad name in the town". She was obviously notorious. She was known to be bad. This prompts the Pharisee to react. Scripture says, "When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would know who this woman is that is touching him and what a bad name he has" (Lk.7:39-40). This is human approach towards sinners and notorious persons. Simon who is Christ's host is not alone here, so we need not condemn him yet. Even the followers of Christ react negatively at the end. Thus, "Those who were with him at table began to say to themselves, 'Who is this man, that he even forgives sins?". 

In relating the action of the woman who was a sinner with David's in the first reading, we notice not only the individual dimension to sin but also the social effects on the community. David kills Uriah, impregnates his wife, then takes her over completely. The woman of the gospel is said to have a bad name in town. The people therefore become judgmental in approaching them. We all wear our judgmental cap when we encounter notorious sinners in our society. I have a personal experience with a parishioner. This guy is so scared to come to church now because of what the people think and say of him. He is accused of identifying with a drug addict, so he is no longer good for the faith. His friends reject him. Some make him feel that he's no longer worthy to be before God. All he feels is judgment, not friendship. Now he lacks courage to face fellow Christians. He prefers to stay away, to deal with God personally. This is our human approach. 

God's approach is different. Think about Christ's attitude towards the notorious woman today. She walks into the party without invitation. That would have been her first offense because we are so legalistic. This woman has no ticket, no ID card. But she has faith in the Master. She recognizes the power of Jesus to save her, the reason why Saint Paul states that what makes a person righteous is not obedience to the Law, but faith in Christ Jesus. The Pharisee, on the other hand, is interested in the Law. If this woman is a bad person, by law she should be handed over for judgment and possibly condemned. The Pharisee sees himself as super qualified to dine with Jesus because of his apparent righteousness, but the woman is not. 

Jesus starts by letting Simon know that no one is completely innocent before God. He starts by pointing out some loopholes in Simon's reception for him. "Simon" Jesus says, "you see this woman? I came to your house, and you poured no water over my feet, but she has poured out her tears over my feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she has been covering my feet with kisses ever since I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. For this reason I tell you that her sins, her many sins must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown great love". Simon must be weak by now. He might have realized that he sinned after all, that he's not perfect. Jesus uses that moment to teach the great lesson of forgiveness. The woman shows gratitude as the Psalm says, "How blessed are those whose offense is forgiven, whose sin is blotted out" (Ps.32:1). And David prays, "a broken, contrite heart, O God, you will not scorn" (Ps.51:17). 

We learn the following lessons from the readings: (1)We are not perfect as human beings. Even though we may not have committed grievous sins, we can be carrying tiny particles of sins. The anger we bear against fellow drivers on the road, the envy we entertain, the beggar we neglect on the road, the gossip we share in, the time we waste, the sarcastic joke we promote, etc. These are all sinful acts although they may not be too big.

(2)We need not be too quick in judging and condemning others. There are obviously notorious persons in our midst- addicts, criminals, sex offenders, etc. Let's not judge them as not worthy of God's love and mercy. Let's give opportunities for change and help them with our prayers.

(3)We need to open our eyes to God's grace in our lives. Christ came that all may have life and have it in abundance. Let's come to him in humility and always recognize that we are in continuous need of mercy. The Jubilee Year of Mercy is a special time to come to Christ regularly in the sacrament of reconciliation. Only humility guarantees openness for grace.

(4)Finally, let's learn to show gratitude to God for his forgiveness in our lives. The woman who was said to be notorious teaches us of the need for gratitude today. Often times, we take God's mercy for granted. Do we appreciate that we have been redeemed by the precious blood of the Lamb? Do we give God enough time to show this appreciation? Do we forgive our  transgressors recognizing that all of us are beneficiaries of God's love and mercy? Remember, each time you forgive, you show gratitude to God for forgiving you.

Therefore, let us put off the cap of judgment today and put on the crown of mercy and forgiveness, as Saint Paul says, "The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same" (Col.3:14).