11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. 2 Samuel 12:7-10,13; Galatians2:16,19-21; Luke 7:36-8:3.
AIM: To show how all three readings teach that justification is God=s free gift.
Does God love people of bad moral character B people, for instance, who sleep around, cheat on their spouses, who lie and steal, who hurt others? Or is God=s love reserved for good, religious people who can claim a reward from God because of their upright lives?
All three of today=s readings address these questions. The first reading and the Gospel are about serious sinners. The second reading describes, in somewhat technical language, the lesson to be drawn from God=s treatment of serious sinners.
The first reading is about King David=s fall into serious sin: adultery with the wife of one of his generals, while the husband was at the front placing his life on the line for the sake of King David. When David discovers that the woman is pregnant with his child, he arranges to have her husband killed in battle. David=s sin started with impetuous passion. It ends with cold, calculated murder. It is a clear case of what Catholic theology calls Amortal sin.@
The first reading tells about God sending the prophet Nathan to rebuke David. Nathan reminds the king of all God has given him. He raised David from a simple shepherd boy to the pinnacle of worldly power. David grasped it all with outstretched hands, and reached out for more.
Nathan=s words hit home. David repents at once. Without offering any excuses he confesses: AI have sinned against the Lord.@ Moved by the king=s swift repentance, Nathan tells him: AThe Lord ... has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.@
David=s fall into serious sin was a dark chapter in an otherwise upright life. The same cannot be said of the woman we meet in the Gospel. Luke calls her Aa sinful woman in the city@B a euphemism for a prostitute. Her extravagant behavior B kissing Jesus= feet, and letting down her hair to wipe away her tears B is the woman=s emotional display of gratitude for Jesus= message: that God loves everyone without distinction, even outcasts like her.
Jesus= deeply religious host, Simon, is scandalized both by the woman=s extravagant behavior and by Jesus= acceptance of the woman. Jesus responds with his story about two debtors. Both have their debts cancelled B not as a reward for anything they have done, but simply because their creditor is generous. One man owed ten times as much as the other. Which of them would be more grateful for the cancellation of his debt, Jesus asks. His host=s reply is icy: AThe one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.@ Overlooking the resentment clearly present behind this reply, Jesus immediately applies the story to the sinful woman before him.
This woman has shown gratitude for my message of God=s freely granted love and forgiveness, Jesus tells his host. You, on the other hand, are scandalized at the suggestion that God could love an outcast like her. Instead of rejoicing in God=s unlimited goodness, you set yourself up as a judge of others. Despite all your efforts to keep all the precepts of your faith, Jesus tells Simon, you are actually farther from God than this woman. True, her life is disordered and sinful. But she realizes her need of God=s forgiveness, and is grateful for it. You see no need for forgiveness, Jesus tells his host. No wonder that you feel no gratitude. Jesus concludes by assuring the woman that her sins are indeed forgiven.
The second reading contains Paul=s statement of the lesson to be drawn from God=s forgiveness of King David, and Jesus= forgiveness of the prostitute: AA person is not justified by works of the law,@ Paul writes. AJustified@ is a technical term for Paul. It means God=s loving acceptance of us: God=s blessing in this world, heaven in the next. What Paul is saying is this: God does not accept us on the basis of our good-conduct record. We cannot buy our way into God=s favor, or into heaven, not even by keeping all the commandments perfectly (and which of us has?). ABy works of the law no one will be justified,@ Paul explains. In other words, God accepts us not because of our goodness, but because of his generosity.
Does this mean that the commandments are unimportant, that we can forget about them? Of course not. God=s commandments remain important. But they are not a kind of moral test in which we must get a passing grade before God will accept and love us. Rather the commandments are the description of the grateful life B the life of people who know that, even after their best efforts to leave good lives, they still fall short of God=s standards and have no claim on him; yet who know that God accepts them in love nonetheless, because of the sin-offering made on Calvary by Jesus Christ.
Here is how Paul describes his own response to God=s freely given love, in another translation of the second reading than the one we heard a few moments ago: AI have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I will not treat God=s gracious gift as pointless.@ [New American Bible]
Treating God=s gracious gift as pointless means failing to show gratitude, like Jesus= host, Simon, in the Gospel. It means assuming that because we are regular at Mass, keep the other precepts of the Church, and have never been in trouble with the police, we have some kind of claim on God. We never have a claim on God. God has a claim on us B and it is a total claim.
The first thing God claims from us is gratitude for his freely given love and forgiveness. God looks, however, for a gratitude that goes beyond words. Genuine thanksgiving for God=s blessings must be expressed in deeds. To strengthen and empower us for lives of grateful service to him, and to our sisters and brothers, the Lord Jesus offers us here his body and blood: all his power, goodness, and love. Refreshed with these free gifts, we go out from the Lord=s table to our daily duties, saying with St. Paul in the second reading: AThe life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.@