18 September 2015

Does God's mercy scare you?

24th Week OT (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

Simon the Pharisee gets it wrong. He can't help it. His heart and mind long-suffocated by the rigors of threading needles Mosaic Law, Simon cannot see or hear or feel the mercy radiating from Christ. When the sinful woman falls at Jesus' feet, the Pharisee's thoughts are squinted and mean, “If this guy were a prophet he would know that this woman is a sinner!” What Simon doesn't know is that Jesus knows perfectly well that this woman is a sinner. And that she has come to offer thanks and praise for her salvation. What prevents Simon from seeing and hearing what is so obvious to Jesus? Sure, he's blinded by religious ideology. He's deafened by ritual and power and status. He's anxious about his reputation, and worried that the woman's presence might render him impure under the Law. But what if Simon's ignorance is driven is fear? What if he's afraid of mercy, afraid of what God's mercy means for him personally and professionally? What if – he might be thinking – this Jesus guy is the Real Deal and my life, my faith, my entire reason for being is about to be hauled up and dumped into the Jordan? If God's freely offered mercy to sinners scares you, think hard and ask yourself: why?

With his attention focused on the sinner at his feet, Jesus whispers to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then, a little louder, over the heads in the audience, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Her faith has saved her? What faith? When does the woman profess the faith? When does she confess her sins and express contrition? She never speaks! All she does cry on Jesus' feet, wipe them off with her hair, and then rub some oil on them. Apparently, this is enough for Jesus to pronounce his forgiveness. Twice. BUT! This is exactly backwards. Note what Jesus says to Simon: “. . .her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love.” So, her sins are not forgiven b/c she has shown great love; rather, she shows great love b/c her sins are forgiven. It's her faith that saves her not her works. Her works express gratitude for her salvation and her great love for Christ. This scandalous public display of affection is best understood as testimony. The scandal of Jesus' ministry among the Jews is made manifest in the scandalous gratitude of the sinful woman. What is her witness? Faith forgives. Faith defies. Faith humbles and frees. So, while Simon waits for cleanliness to happen; Jesus does the cleaning. And great love flourishes.

But if great love so obviously flourishes, how does Simon misread a scene so carefully staged to teach him the rewards of faith? Fear competes with faith for control of his soul. Simon fails to understand b/c he has no faith, no faith in Christ. And having no faith in Christ, Simon cannot greatly love. The woman's many sins are forgiven b/c of her faith, therefore, she greatly loves. “But,” Jesus says to Simon, “the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Those deepest in debt rejoice loudest when their debts are canceled. And their gratitude is louder still. How much do you love? A little or a lot? If we are truly grateful to Christ for forgiving us our sins, then our love must always be great, always greater than any sin we might commit and greater still than any sin committed against us. Social conventions, religious ideologies, moral legalisms cannot be allowed to render us blind and deaf when it comes to seeing and hearing the abundant signs of God's forgiveness, nor leave us paralyzed when it's time to act in love. Your faith has saved you; therefore, live in the peace of God's mercy.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

No comments:

Post a Comment