Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – C
2 Samuel 12:7–10, 13
Galatians 2:16, 19-21
The gospel story we have just heard shows us again Jesus’ preference for the marginalized, the weak, the ones we quickly call sinners. The way the story is told we cannot escape noticing and feeling where God’s favor and direction lie. In fact the story is so powerful a statement about God’s love and forgiveness that we are almost forced to find ourselves in one of the two main characters. The simple parable about the two debtors lies at the heart of the matter; we become part of the story and in the end we are forced to identify with one of the two debtors: we are either Simon the Pharisee or the woman of the city, a known sinner—though it never says exactly how she is a sinner.
The key to identifying ourselves in the story at large and in the parable is how much we love in response to being forgiven. The issue here is not whether I love or not. The issue is not whether I am a kind, generous person, loving my neighbor. The issue is do I recognize myself as the sinner who has experienced God’s love in such a way that now I love much because God has offered me forgiveness. Am I willing to see myself as a debtor who has found someone who can release me from my debt? And in return that release has freed in me an outpouring of extravagant love toward my creditor. I have been loved by God so much that I extend to him my tears, my kiss and embrace and my ointment because he is so precious to me.
Simon invites Jesus for a meal because he sees in Jesus a social equal, someone who is at least as zealous for observance of the law as he is. In the society of Jesus day, you only share food with equals. So the company Jesus finds himself in is an all male group reclining around a table. It is obvious that the meal was not quite a private event as it was known in the city that Simon was entertaining the Rabbi Jesus. Of course there was no doubt that one goal of the invitation was to make Simon look good in front of his peers. He assumes that Jesus is a prophet or at least thought of as one by others and so Simon is thrilled to have a prophet at his table.
This lovely meal tableau, so well planned and organized from a social status point of view, is shattered by the unexpected, at least from Simon’s point of view. A woman of the city and a known sinner crashes the meal, so to speak. What shocks him is that Jesus takes no offense. Simon assumes that Jesus should be offended because of the woman’s extravagance and touch—but Jesus is not offended at all. All the gestures of the woman cause Simon to question whether Jesus is really who he claims to be, namely a prophet of God, and remains firm in his conviction that the woman’s behavior is born out of her sinfulness.
Jesus reads the woman and Simon differently. Jesus sees the woman’s gestures as a sign of something deep within her, namely a love responding to being loved in the form of forgiveness. Jesus sees the woman’s great love welling up from an overwhelming sense of knowing herself forgiven. He wonderfully allows the woman to be herself. He allows her tears, her hair, her wonderful ointment and her kisses and touch. All signs of a woman’s love. Perhaps Simon wants to read all that as womanly seduction but Jesus accepts her outpouring as a gesture of the heart. And so he affirms that her sins are forgiven. He affirms her freedom from the past; he confirms her release from debts.
Simon has invited Jesus to his table to share a meal with him. Simon is honored and proud to host the prophet of God. But the prophet of God comes from the world of God and his kingdom. And in that kingdom those who rightfully belong at the table are those whom God has interacted with and offered release namely sinners and those outside. These are the people who know how to give thanks; these are the people who have experienced God’s love poured over them like anointment that heals and gives dignity; these are the people whose tears God has seen and heard and has transformed those tears into a water that cleanses and renews. He has dried their tears with his consolation and acceptance.
Simon wants to judge those who are not at his table. He wants to label them: “what kind of woman is this who dares to touch a man in public”. In turn God offers no judgment but rather acceptance. God accepts those who reach out to touch him, those who want to love him with a kiss and ointment. These are the people who will have communion at God’s table. These are the people who seem to know who Jesus really is: the one who brings forgiveness, who releases from past behavior and opens the way forward to a new and dignified life.
Simon’s sin, as it were, is a sin against hospitality. Jesus makes that abundantly clear in his challenge to Simon. He fails to recognize who his guest is. He has labeled the visitor, like he labeled the woman, and so has failed to see Jesus for who he is. As a result Simon misses out on the hospitality that Jesus offers. God has come visiting and with his visit he calls and invites those who are most in need. The woman responds in an extravagant way with an outpouring of love for the gift being accepted at the table. Simon remains, cold, aloof almost loveless.
The question Jesus asks is a question of love. Who will love the creditor more? The one who recognizes that Jesus is the bearer of forgiveness and love. The one who recognizes that God has come visiting his people precisely to offer them healing and reconciliation. The one will love more the more he or she recognizes that no sin, no debt can completely stand in the way between them and God’s love. The woman loved the more because the woman saw that her sin was not so large that she could not be loved by one greater than she. If we can identify with that, then ours too will be an outpouring of loving gratitude that will look extravagant, wasteful and foolish except to those who also have known that depth of being loved.
What God leaves to those who accept his love is the same as Jesus told the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Forgiveness, salvation and peace. This is truly the food, the healing, that Jesus offers at his table. Happy and blessed are those who know that the Son of God loved them and gave himself up for them. Like the nameless woman, they will know salvation and peace, shalom. They will leave the table as a new creation.
St. Paul’s Abbey
16 June 2013