The Gospel Reading on Sunday presents us with a reflection on what is to be admired and een as virtue. And it is love: love born of being loved and, often enough, love learnt by a sinner forgiven of sin.
One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to a meal. When he arrived at the Pharisee’s house and took his place at table, a woman came in, who had a bad name in the town. She had heard he was dining with the Pharisee and had brought with her an alabaster jar of ointment. She waited behind him at his feet, weeping, and her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them away with her hair; then she covered his feet with kisses and anointed them with the ointment.
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 she has.’ Then Jesus took him up and said, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Speak, Master’ was the reply. ‘There was once a creditor who had two men in his debt; one owed him five hundred denarii, the other fifty. They were unable to pay, so he pardoned them both. Which of them will love him more?’ ‘The one who was pardoned more, I suppose’ answered Simon. Jesus said, ‘You are right.’
Then he turned to the woman. ‘Simon,’ he said ‘you see this woman? I came into your house, and you poured no water over my feet, but she has poured out her tears over my feet and wiped them away 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 such great love. It is the man who is forgiven little who shows little love.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Those who were with him at table began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this man, that he even forgives sins?’ But he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
Now after this he made his way through towns and villages preaching, and proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God. With him went the Twelve, as well as certain women who had been cured of evil spirits and ailments: Mary surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and several others who provided for them out of their own resources.
One of the notable features in the parable Jesus tells is that there is no hint from Jesus that the debtors were sorry for having taken out loans they could not repay. The point is not that their sorrow ‘earns’ mercy. The point is, simply, that the creditor pardons them, and because they have been pardoned they can/will show love. Their love is an effect of forgiveness, not its cause. The logic of the passage of scripture suggests this may be the case for the woman who has sinned much too.
Jesus presses for the game-changer to be love for the sinner, for the debtor. ‘Game-changer’, for his evident concern here is that sins, debts be forgiven so that we find the motivation and freedom for love, The desire is not to establish a new culture of financial rectitude and so on.
Self-Righteousness is not the point. Love, born of God’s love, is.
- Pray for a deeper knowledge of God’s love for you – and how that love is echoed in the love of others around you – and pray for the freedom to respond fully and generously.
Detail from window at church of Sacred Heart and St Teresa, Coleshill. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.