11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 16, 1983
Luke 7: 36-50
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.
“O God, … since without you mortal frailty can do nothing, grant us always the help of your grace” (Collect).
The Collect or opening prayer acknowledges our helplessness. It doesn’t admit outright that we’re sinners, but I think we can read that between the lines.
No such ambiguity in the 1st reading (2 Sam 12:7-10,13) or the gospel (Luke 7:36-50). Sin’s there in big, bold, scarlet letters: David’s sins, the sins of an anonymous woman.
David’s sins are named and condemned publicly by the prophet Nathan: adultery, murder, ingratitude for all God’s gifts.
|The Sinful Woman at Jesus' Feet, source unknown|
We’re left to guess at the sins of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints them with precious oil. Many early and medieval commentators identified her with Mary Magdalene, but modern commentators don’t think so at all. Whoever she may be, evidently she’s notorious—and we don’t really need to try to guess at her sins. That’s not the point of the story.
The point, of course, is that thru Jesus God forgives her, for she regrets her sinfulness, admits her sinfulness, and seeks pardon.
David, likewise, once he’s confronted, confesses his sins humbly and begs for God’s mercy, and God pardons him (12:13).
We have 2 huge sinners, then, in these 2 stories—huge in human eyes, at least. Both are forgiven immediately upon repenting and turning to God; upon admitting their “mortal frailty,” their guilt, either explicitly like David or silently like the woman at Jesus’ feet. They realize that they’re in a fix from which they can’t escape on their own: God has passed judgment on David, and the sinful woman realizes that God will judge her, as well—not to mention the judgment that everyone in town has already passed upon her. Their “mortal frailty can do nothing” to make their situations right. But the grace of God can do something.
What encouragement for us! Whatever sins we’ve committed, long ago or recently, huge or tiny or in-between, public or private—“the help of God’s grace” will touch them, forgive them, destroy them! All we have to do is admit them, be sorry for them, confess them, turn away from them.
God loves us, and Jesus is his very particular way of showing that. Simon the Pharisee says to himself, “If this man were a prophet…” (7:39). A prophet is someone who speaks for God, as Nathan does in the 1st reading. So, yes, Jesus is definitely a prophet! More, of course. He offers God’s unconditional love and pardon to the sinful woman and to us.
We don’t have to do great deeds 1st. We don’t have to become saints 1st. Great deeds and sanctity follow, as in our prayer: “Grant us the help of your grace that … we may please you by our resolve and our deeds.” When he forgives us, we become holy, become his friends, become capable of doing what will please him.
So, sisters and brothers, accept the love and mercy Jesus offers you. If you’re Catholic, seek out the hospital chaplain and bring him your sins, like David and the woman who came to Jesus. And start on the road of being Jesus’ friend, made holy by his love.