Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gospel for Sept 16, Memorial: St Cornelius, pope and martyr, and St Cyprian, bishop and martyr

Thursday, 24th Week in Ordinary Time

From: Luke 7:36-50

The Woman Who was a Sinner

[36] One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat at table. [37] And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was sitting at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, [38] and standing beside him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears; and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. [39] Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner. [40] And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “What is it, Teacher?” [41] A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?” [43] Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” [44] Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. [46] You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. [47] Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little loves little.” [48] And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” [49] Then those who were at table with him began to say among them- selves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” [50] And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

36-40. This woman, moved no doubt by grace, was attracted by Christ’s preach- ing and by what people were saying about him. When dining, people reclined on low divans leaning on their left arm with their legs tucked under them, away from the table. A host was expected to give his guest a kiss of greeting and offer him water for his feet, and perfumes.

41-50. In this short parable of the two debtors Christ teaches us three things – his own divinity and his power to forgive sins; the merit the woman’s love deserves; and the discourtesy implied in Simeon’s neglecting to receive Jesus in the conventional way. Our Lord was not interested in these social niceties as such but in the affection which they expressed; that was why he felt hurt at Simeon’s neglect.

“Jesus notices the omission of the expression of human courtesy and refinement which the Pharisee failed to show him. Christ is perfectus Deus, perfectus homo (Athanasian Creed). He is perfect God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and perfect man. He comes to save, not to destroy nature. It is from him that we learn that it is unchristian to treat our fellow men badly, for they are crea- tures of God, made in his image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26)” (Bl. J. Escriva, Friends of God, 73).

Moreover, the Pharisee was wrong to think badly of this sinner and of Jesus: reckoning that Christ did not know anything about her, he complained inwardly. Our Lord, who could read the secret thoughts of men (which sowed his divinity), intervened to point out to him his mistake. True righteousness, says St. Gregory the Great (cf. In Evangelia homiliae, 33), is compassionate; whereas false righteousness is indignant. There are many people like this Pharisee: forgetting that they themselves were or are poor sinners, when they see other people’s sin they immediately become indignant, instead of taking pity on them, or else they rush to judge them or sneer at them. They forget what St Paul says: “Let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12); “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness […]. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1-2).

We should strive to have charity govern all our judgments. Otherwise, we will easily be unjust towards others. “Let us be slow to judge. Each one see things from his own point of view, and with his own mind, with all its limitations, through eyes that are often dimmed and clouded by passion . . . Of what little worth are the judgments of men! Don’t judge without sifting your judgment in prayer (Bl. J. Escriva, The Way, 451).

Charity and humility will allow us to see in the sins of others our own weak and helpless position, and will help our hearts go out to the sorrow of every sinner who repents, for we too would fall into sins as serious or more serious if God in his mercy did not say by our side.

“It was not the ointment that the Lord loved”, St. Ambrose comments, “but the affection; it was the woman’s faith that pleased him, her humility. And you also, if you desire grace, increase your love; pour over the body of Jesus Christ your faith in the Resurrection, the perfume of the holy Church and the ointment of charity towards others” (Expositio Evangelii sec. Lucam, in loc.).

47, Man cannot merit forgiveness for his sins because, since God is the offended party, they are of infinite gravity. We need the sacrament of Penance, in which God forgives us by virtue of the infinite merits of Jesus Christ; there is only one indispensable condition for winning God’s forgiveness – our love, our repentance. We are pardoned to the extent that we love; when our heart is full of love there is no longer any room in it for sin because we have made room for Jesus, and he says to us as he said to this woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” Repentance is a sign that we love God. But it was God who first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:1:10). When God forgives us he is expressing his love for us. Our love for God is, then, always a response to his initiative. By forgiving us God helps us to be more grateful and more loving towards him. “He loves little”, St Augustine comments, “who has little forgiven. You say that you have not committed many sins: but why is that the case? […] The reason is that God was guiding you […]. There is no sin that one many commits, which another may not commit also unless God, man’s maker, guides him” (Sermons, 99, 6). Therefore, we ought to fall ever more deeply in love with our Lord, not only because he forgives us our sins but also because he helps us by means of his grace not to commit them.

50. Jesus declares that it was faith that moved this woman to throw herself at his feet and show her repentance; her repentance wins his forgiveness. Similarly, when we approach the sacrament of Penance we should stir up our faith in the fact that it is “not a human but a divine dialogue. It is a tribunal of divine justice and especially of mercy, with a loving judge who ‘has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; I desire that the wicked turn back from his way and live’ (Ezek 33:11)” (Bl. J. Escriva, Christ is Passing By, 78).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

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