Father Donald Senior, CP


Sunday, May 29, 2016

June 12: 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Sm 12:7-10, 13; Gal 2:16, 19- 21; Lk 7:36—8:3

Fans of Clint Eastwood will remember his somber film “Unforgiven.” It was a tale of a gunfighter who is drawn out of retirement for one last episode of retribution against a killer who had bullied and tortured a prostitute with a heart of gold. Eastwood’s character, of course, kills the guilty one but only after a lot of other people bite the dust as well. Then the lonely figure played by Eastwood rides off into the sunset.

If the inevitability of settling scores is the message of “Unforgiven,” the message that comes through in this Sunday’s readings is quite the opposite: “Forgiven.” In the first reading from the Second Book of Samuel, the prophet Nathan confronts David for arranging to have one of his most loyal soldiers, Uriah the Hittite, killed in order to cover up the king’s adultery with Bathsheba.

The Bible loves David, portraying him as the poet king and as the brightest and bravest of rulers on behalf of his people Israel. All the more tragic is David’s fall from grace.

In the passage that precedes our Sunday selection, the prophet Nathan trapped David by telling him a story of a brutal, rich man who abuses his power and slaughters the precious lamb of a poor man to serve a meal to a visitor. David explodes in anger but Nathan turns the table by saying to the king: “You are that man!”

The story of David’s sin ends not in retribution but forgiveness. When David confesses his sin and repents, the prophet replies: “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die.”

The Gospel selection from Luke gives us a spectacular scene of forgiveness. While Jesus is dining in the house of Simon the Pharisee, a woman who is weeping approaches Jesus as he reclines at table. The story labels her as a “sinful woman in the city.”

Her gestures of tender love for Jesus are remarkable, even shocking in the social constraints of the first-century Jewish world. She bathes his feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, kisses them and then anoints them with ointment.

Simon is repelled by this lavish display of affection. “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him that she is a sinner.” But Jesus defends this unnamed woman and challenges his arrogant host.

While Simon neglected to offer Jesus the courtesies of ordinary hospitality, this woman, he notes, showed her love for Jesus in the most striking way possible from the moment she entered the banquet hall. If she is a sinner — which Jesus does not deny — her ardent and extravagant love is the measure of the forgiveness she has experienced.

This is not an isolated example of forgiveness in the ministry of Jesus and in his teaching. Jesus forgives the paralytic his sins and offers protective love and forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery. He tells Peter that he should be ready to forgive “not seven times but 77 times” and adds the story of the merciless servant who ignores the entreaties of a fellow servant who owes him a small debt — forgetting that the master just forgave him so much more. And Jesus instructs his disciples that if they are about to bring their gift to the altar and remember that someone has offended them, they should leave their gift at the altar and first go and be reconciled.

We don’t know the rest of the story about the woman Jesus forgave. It ends with him bidding her “to go in peace.”

The story of David and other teachings of Jesus remind us that God’s forgiveness is lavish and complete but it is not “cheap grace.” There are consequences to our actions. We read, sadly, that David’s child by Bathsheba would not live.

The expectation of the Scriptures is that having experienced God’s gracious forgiveness we will never be the same. Our lives are now transformed and we are to respond to others who offend us in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.


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