Over the many years I have served as a priest, one thing that always amazes me is that no one can really look ahead and see what lies ahead for them. I think today’s first and third readings tell us this fairly clearly today. First, we see Samuel sent to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse with a horn of oil to anoint the next King of Israel from among Jesse’s sons. With a sacrificial banquet prepared Jesse presents seven of his sons starting with the oldest. Samuel was drawn to the sons, and even had a favorite, but each of the seven presented were rejected by the Lord as the chosen one. Only when Samuel asked, did Jesse say my youngest is tending the sheep. Yet, the youngest and least of his children was the one chosen and who during his life and for all ages would be remembered. God chose him and remained with him through his good times and even his times of unfaithfulness for the good of Israel. Why David? Only God could say.
Next we come to man born blind in the gospel today. He like the homeless and other victims of our society that we so often pass and really do not see as we busily pursue our lives, even today in our modern times. Unlike his disciples who were quick to equate his blindness to sins of his parents, Jesus paused and said this man was chosen to show Christ as light of the world. Sickness, blindness maladies had nothing to do with sin. The man before him had an intrinsic value, and so it is for every human being in God’s creation. Once again the weak, the person set aside is chosen to be a lesson for God’s kingdom. Again we are reminded, no part of creation is insignificant.
The real lesson for us today, is that God does as he wills. He chooses whom he wants and sometimes confounds us by whom he chooses. It is why his church is a community and in Baptism we all share in the priesthood of his cross and resurrection. His Spirit works through the whole body of the church from the least to the greatest. Yet, in actuality there is really only one Great one, and this is the Body of Christ. This is why we must remain open to the Spirit, open to one another in all things. Christ speaks to all of us in many ways. Whether we be the least or possibly the greatest we need always to be open to the Spirit and hear his Word.
11th Sunday Homily, 6-12-16 year C, 2nd Samuel 12:1-13, Galatians 2: 16-21, Luke 7: 36-50
Our 1st reading is one of the few readings in the Sunday lectionary from King David’s life, and it’s sad that we read about one of his worst moments. Adultery & murder are taboo in most cultures because they tear the very fabric of community life. David knowingly and purposefully sinned. Nathan told him a parable which made him face what he did. David used his wiles, his wealth, his power, and his position to sin. How could God forgive him?
But there is a clear message of God’s grace and mercy. Psalm 51 is David’s confession. “A clean heart create for me, God; do not drive me from your presence, nor take from me your holy spirit. Restore my joy in your salvation.” So, what is the message Nathan brings? “The Lord has forgiven your sin.” That is the message of the story. That is the take-away. That is the point. No matter how far he had fallen – even the mighty King David – or the darkness of the sin, God had announced his forgiveness to Nathan before David had even been confronted. There are, however, repercussions from David’s actions – not punishment from God, but natural consequences; that’s an important distinction.
Then we hear Paul’s take on how we move from sin to grace. “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me,” Paul writes to the Galatians. Paul wrote to the church in Rome: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We rejoice because of what God has done.” Let me paraphrase. ”I live in the present”, he says. ”But my sin, even before it happened, died with Jesus when he was crucified. I have faith in and believe this in the very core of my being: that Jesus loved me when I was at my worst, and that he was willing to die a shameful dead, a torturous death at the hands of people just like me, people who did the same sinful things I do. All of this Jesus did before I ever came to believe. Jesus’ actions and God’s forgiveness preceded my understanding of and my confession of my sins.”
But a picture is worth a thousand words, so Luke provides the picture. So often we find the original story in the Old Testament, like David and Nathan, and then Jesus comes along and takes that same story line, and lives it out, showing us God’s ways. See, without Jesus, we are inclined to think God is like us, and we want to create a god in our image. We want revenge, we want others to stoop and gravel before us. We want to hear, “Oh please, I beg you to forgive me!!” So we assume, from our expectations, that we must cajole or coax or wheedle or shame God into forgiving us, you know, lean on him a little. But is that really how God is??
To answer that question, Jesus, like Nathan, presents a compelling parable about forgiveness – in this case the forgiveness of debt, a concrete subject that wealthy Simon the Pharisee can relate to…just as David, once a shepherd, understood sheep story.
Here it is: Two men are in serious debt. One owes 50 days wages, which would take years to repay. The other owes 500 days wages –hopeless, impossible to repay. The vineyards that have been in his family for 100’s of years will be sold off, the wife and kids will be sold into slavery. But the creditor forgives both of them. Which man will be really delighted, but which one will be ecstatic, jumping, screaming with joy, sobbing with love and thanksgiving? Obvious. Simon’s response sounds hesitant to me, and I suspect he hears a rebuke coming, for Simon the Pharisee is well aware that he has not extended the appropriate hospitality to Jesus. Simon would have seen to it that anyone of his own social status would have been greeted with water to wash his feet, would have been given a firm kiss, and his hair would have been anointed with soothing perfumed oil. But Simon had done none of these things for Jesus. Jesus has been treated like the entertainment, and quite possible the amusement, for the other guests.
Meanwhile, Jesus had allowed this woman’s administrations, which are far beyond social norms. She sobbed over him, to the point of washing his feet with her copious tears, wiping them with her hair, which no proper woman would loosen and display in public, kissing and anointing his feet with ointment. The boldness of this woman was undoubtedly caused by her understanding of who Jesus was, and the undeniable need to seize this chance to express her overwhelming gratitude. Simon judges Jesus as ignorant of what he thinks is the impropriety of her behavior; Simon judges her to be of low morals and sinful.
But suddenly Jesus turns the tables. Simon is called out on his rude behavior, and the woman is praised: “Her many sins have been forgiven; therefore she has shown great love.” The Greek structure of that sentence becomes ambiguous when translated to English. Some might find it confusing and think her show of love has lead to her forgiveness. Not so; think back to Jesus’ parable. Did the debtors display any great virtue or faith? No! It was the creditor who forgave the debt, and the love and joy were a reaction to the forgiveness of the debt. And Jesus, to seal the deal so to speak, announces, “Your sins are forgiven”, and causes the other guests to stop and reconsider the whole situation.
So what are we left with here? Can it be that God initiates forgiveness? Can it be that God has already forgiven us our sins, even before we acknowledge them? Is it possible that we waste enormous parts of our lives avoiding facing our darkness and shutting our eyes and ears to reconciliation with God and neighbors? Do we miss the chance to feel and express our joy; do we shut down and remain static instead? Maybe the part of the darkness in this world that is ours just seems too large to fix or beyond our control, so we rationalize it as too big for God to fix. How would our lives change if we forgave everyone of everything right away instead waited for them to confess guilt? What if Christians really were known for their love and forgiveness? Perhaps in the answers to these questions is the hope our churches and community and nations seek.