Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thursday in Passion Week

Daniel 3:25, 34-45 / Luke 7:36-50

In his homily on Jesus and the sinful woman at the house of Simon the Pharisee, Pope St. Gregory the Great asks whether it is better to say that Jesus received the woman or that he drew her to him. Asked differently, is Jesus the goal, the object of her search, or is her searching the fruit of Jesus' having already worked on her from within?

On the face of it, the effort looks to be altogether on the side of the woman. She was not, so far as we can tell from the Gospel, invited by Simon to join him for the meal he was sharing with Jesus. Without any special invitation or prompting, she took the alabaster box of ointment she had brought with her, opened it, and anointed Jesus' feet, having washed them with her tears and dried them with her hair. When Jesus speaks about her to Simon, it is she who is praised for her love: Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. Again, when he sends her on her way, the source of her forgiveness seems to have come from her: Thy faith hath saved thee: go in peace.

Yet, things are not all as they seem. In the parable Jesus shares with Simon about the creditor and his two debtors, one of whom was forgiven a great amount, the other not nearly as much, Simon rightly concludes that love for the creditor is the result of the creditor's forgiveness. Which therefore of the two loveth him most? Simon answering, said: He, I suppose, to whom he forgave more. Likewise, when speaking of the woman who has been forgiven many sins, Jesus also adds a coda: But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less. In other words, Jesus reminds his Pharisee host that love is not the precondition of forgiveness, as though the more loveable one is, the more he can and will be forgiven. Rather, the reverse is true. It is the degree of forgiveness which produces and increases love.

This is why both Simon, and we, ought to be stung in our consciences. If we are not accustomed to perform spontaneous acts of extravagant love like the woman with her alabaster jar of ointment, then the suggestion is that we are still in our sins. It is not simply a question of how scarlet or black our sins may have been. Who we may have been up to this point, how and where and with whom we may have betrayed the Good News is simply not the point. The only question is how open we have been to receive the ceaseless and abundant stream of mercy pouring from the side of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Drink deeply, pour out tears with abandon, pay no heed to the sneers of those who come to know how far we have fallen, and we quickly discover our own inner floodgates of charity thrown wide open, and the love of which we feared we were not capable will have become to us like a second nature.

As Holy Week approaches, and with it the Church's remembrance of the wonderful, saving work of Jesus Christ, there is no need to fret over how well we may have kept our Lent. Let us turn, one and all, to our great creditor who has already, in Jesus Christ, forgiven us all of our debts. Let us receive that forgiveness, and in that bountiful pardon, produce a rich harvest of love for God, and for this world and its inhabitants, whom he loved enough to bring to life everlasting.

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