NAMING SIN, CLAIMING GRACE, & PROFESSING LOVE

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
June 17, 2007

Readings: 2 Sam 12:7-10,13 / Gal 2:16, 19-21 / Lk 7:36 – 8:3


God our Father, we rejoice in the faith that draws us together, aware that selfishness can drive us apart. Let your encouragement be our constant strength. Keep us one in the love that has sealed our lives. Help us to live as one family the gospel we profess. We ask this through Christ our Lord. (Alternative Opening Prayer)

As is my wont, I would like to give my own “reading” of the three passages for today.

A rebuke from the Lord (2 Sam 12) gives the “beginning action” of today’s liturgical readings. Nathan the prophet “tells it like it is” to the humbled and repentant David, who has acted selfishly before the Lord. Fundamentally guilty of “inhospitality” not only to Uriah, but more so, to the Lord God, David’s remorse and plea for forgiveness – an acknowledgment and recognition of grace from above –occasioned a happy resolution from a forgiving and loving God: “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die” (1st Reading).

The justification that David gets is clearly not on account of his own doing. It comes, first and foremost, from recognizing the power of God to restore him back to good standing. This much is clear from the first reading. But this, too, is made even clearer by Paul, who declares that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16-21).

The Gospel passage from Luke (7:36 – 8:3), for its part, clinches basically the same foundational truth. Earning back God’s favor begins by acknowledging and recognizing – and thus, welcoming God – back to one’s life, no matter what may have transpired in the past. The sinful woman recognized Jesus for who he was and what he stood for. Her warm welcome – her love shown concretely in her action of washing his feet and wiping them with her hair, also occasioned her total justification, her forgiveness: “Your sins are forgiven.” Her great love shown in a very hospitable act of acceptance of the Lord’s messenger was her way of saying, like we do today after the first reading: “Lord, forgive the wrong I have done” (Responsorial Psalm).

We started this Mass and every Mass with such acceptance and recognition. At the Penitential Rite, we also proclaimed our sinfulness, even as we acclaimed even more God’s loving mercy and forgiveness … “I confess to Almighty God …”

The past two Sundays, along with the recent solemn feast of the Sacred Heart have highlighted this extraordinary mystery of God’s love, and his desire to be one and to be close to His people. The Trinity, we said, is basically the story of God in action, a God who loves us, and gets close to us, not once, not twice, but thrice over. He is God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God-Father as the Giver, God-Son as the Gift-ed One, and God-Spirit as the Gifting One, then and up till now. The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord speaks of this same God who offers Himself as food for us wayfarers. He is not only Word made flesh. He is Word become flesh for us to eat, and “he who eats this body and this drinks this blood will have life everlasting.” The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, for its part, turns our gaze to the human and divine heart of Jesus, the Son of God, whose physical heart becomes the symbol and vehicle par excellence of His divine mercy, and of God’s desire to be close to His people.

But we should not fall overboard and keep on emphasizing unilaterally the extraordinary love of God for us. That is not the only point of today’s readings. Pious statements alone about God’s love won’t clinch it for us. Abstractions alone about this same God won’t help any if one does not welcome Him through recognition and acknowledgment. Good News won’t be of much help to us unless it gives way to greatness and holiness of life on our part.

And this, by the way, is the reason why we are together here today, and why Christian believers all over the world gather together each Sunday. We have come to acknowledge Him and His great love for us. We have come to give recognition of His power to forgive and His desire to bring us back to His fold. But implicit in such a recognition is our equally clear acceptance and recognition of our sinfulness.

We have come to give hospitality to the Lord. We have come to wash his feet and wipe them with our strong resolve to truly make a dwelling place for Him in our hearts, in our lives. But this is exactly where good news becomes great task – a self-imposed task that comes with the welcome we accord Him as Lord and Savior.

Many times, we act less like the repentant woman and more like the contemptuous Pharisee. He did not find it in his heart to do so much as leave room for the woman and what she represented – sinful but repentant humanity. In our selfishness, we see little hope in the world. In our self-centeredness, we close the doors on others and crowd them out of our lives. We give up on people. We give up on some of them as bad jobs. We judge and condemn. We even second guess one another, and see only bad intentions even if there were none. And, like the Pharisee, we bloat sins of the flesh out of proportions, and miss out on the bigger issues like social sins, sins against the environment, sins against innocent lives, and big scale mass violence in full blown wars and the like.

Today’s liturgy is more a call to recognition and acceptance of God, before it is a call to repentance. It is, first and foremost, a call to hospitality for God. It challenges us to unclutter our lives so as to leave room for God’s coming and dwelling within. It is first of all a call for us to love Him, before it is a call for us to ask His forgiveness. Great forgiveness comes from great love. We are forgiven, not primarily because we ask forgiveness, but because God loves us in the first place. The sinful, repentant woman, Jesus declares, was “forgiven much, because she has loved much.” She began well by acknowledging the God of forgiveness, the God become flesh in Jesus Christ.

There is a three-tiered lesson in all this for us. First, we need to name our sin. We need to recognize our sinfulness, like David did, like the woman in the gospel did. Second, we need to claim God’s grace. We need to recognize and acknowledge God’s loving mercy and compassion. We need to make good our prayer today, “Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.” And third, we need to profess our love. Like the woman, who poured out tears and perfume, we need to pour out ourselves in love. That is the best return we can make. Love for love. We cannot settle for anything less. For it is that same love from God that has sealed our lives forever. “Keep us, Lord, in the love that has sealed our lives.”

Paranaque City, June 10, 2007

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