Saint Mary of the Angels
June 13, 2010
Faith and Forgiveness
Ken Hughes SJ
have two pre-notes to today’s Gospel story:
The story is sometimes called, “The Sinful
Woman,” but there are three principal people in this story: Jesus, an unnamed woman, and Simon the Pharisee, -- all
three are essential to the story.
In today’s gospel translation from The
New American Bible, Jesus says, “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.” The preferred translation according to most Scripture scholars is: “I tell you,
her many sins must have been forgiven, seeing that she has shown so much love.”
In other words, the woman’s love does not bring forgiveness, -- as if she could merit
forgiveness by her love. Rather, being forgiven moves her to love. And, being forgiven much, her love, in response, is all the greater.
Last summer, a woman said to me, “I envy you people who have been given faith. I envy you who grew
up in a family of faith.” She had grown up in an atheistic and alcoholic
family. God was never mentioned. She was given neither faith nor a religion to
hold a faith. She found herself now with many questions: “Is there really
a God? Am I actually talking with God when I pray or is it just my imagination? Am I really just talking to myself?” My
brief and inadequate response to her was that, in the long run, she might be better off because in her search and struggle
for God, her heart might be broken open so as to discover a deeper relationship with God than many of us who have had the
faith handed on to us.
Today’s Gospel story illustrates this point. On the one hand, we have Simon, the host who invites
Jesus to a meal in his home. He is a religious man. Three times Luke mentions
that Simon is a Pharisee, therefore, a man who lives in a long and deep faith tradition. He knows his faith and observes its
rules. On the other hand, we have this woman, an uninvited guest, known widely
as a sinful woman, one who undoubtedly was forced outside the synagogue, had
no place at worship.
How do these two relate to Jesus? Simon is cold, judgmental,
unloving. He omits the usual courtesies offered to a guest. The woman, however,
weeps, bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, anoints them with ointment. Simon is emotionally distant, aloof; the woman emotionally close, intimate.
What has happened to them? Clearly, the woman’s heart
has been broken open. She is aware of her wretchedness, but somehow knows by
word or gesture or just a look that Jesus loves her, forgives her. In Jesus,
she knows that God welcomes her. Her heart, broken open by Jesus’ love, pours forth an abundance of love in gratitude.
And Simon? His religious knowledge, practices, rituals, seem
to have covered over his heart adding layer upon layer of complacency and self-righteousness.
He is a well respected religious leader, but where is his heart?
He has no awareness of sin, no need for forgiveness, neither does he feel compassion or show kindness. He lives with a protected heart.
It is frightening what religion can do if we are not careful and not tending to our hearts. Just look at recent decisions by religious leaders: in Phoenix and Denver, in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania,
and right here in Hingham, Massachusetts. What do we see: hearts broken open with understanding and compassion or hearts protected by religious righteousness? How would Jesus have acted? Just as He
did in today’s Gospel: with love and compassion.
But how are our hearts doing?
When was the last time we felt our heart broken open with tears of gratitude for a gift received from God,
or love shown by another?
When was the last time we felt our heart broken open with tears of wonder at a small child, an exquisite
flower, a cool summer day?
When was the last time we felt our heart broken open with tears of love because we too felt God’s
mercy and forgiveness washing over all our sins, past and present.
When was the last time we felt our heart broken open with tears of joy because we had passed through a
crisis and survived?
The preacher preaches to himself. There are times when I see
my own heart more like the “covered over,” protected heart of Simon than the “broken open” heart of
this woman. Busyness, even about the things of God, can shut down rather than
open up my heart. How easy to lose that sense of gratitude and wonder, those
feelings of love and joy that open the heart with tears!
If I ever meet again the woman with whom I had that brief conversation about faith, I will suggest that
she ponder this Gospel story. Who is more alive: Simon with his years of religion
or the woman with her new found faith and forgiveness?
I want to say, and do say these beatitudes:
Blessed are the searchers and seekers for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who have had their hearts broken open for they are the ones fully alive with love.
And, lastly, remember, it is to the woman, not to Simon, that Jesus says at the end, “Go in peace!” She, not Simon, felt that inner peace that only God can give.