The great St. Augustine said in his day that “Sins, however great and detestable they may be, are looked upon as trivial, or not as sin at all, when we get accustomed to them. As we grow accustomed to them, sin is not only concealed, but sometimes even boasted of, and published far and wide…” It doesn’t take much observing to see that we have lost a sense of sin in society today. Now, seeing the “gray” areas in the midst of “black and white” issues has become the norm rather than the exception. On the one hand, we need the gray so as not to define ourselves by our sinfulness, or perceive ourselves as hopelessly lost. Yet, on the other hand, it has become harder and harder for many to take personal responsibility for their actions, especially when those actions are an affront to common moral goodness, hence, we need the black and white.
Sacred Scripture never downplays evil and sin; yet neither does it downplay mercy and forgiveness. We hear this proclaimed Sunday after Sunday. So it is apropos that our first reading regarding the heinous sin of David, and our Gospel portraying the sinful woman begging for mercy affirms the forgiveness of sin based on our contrition. To be forgiven, we must take ownership of our iniquities.
We cannot write off King David’s conduct to a midlife crisis. To do that would reduce human existence to nothing more than psychology and instinct. At the same time, God’s offer of forgiveness kicks in as soon as the sinner acknowledges it. That’s the big difference between the Pharisee and the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears. Why did Jesus put the parable of the two debtors before his learned host, a religious Jew who was well versed in the Jewish Scriptures and who would have rigorously followed the letter of the Law of Moses? This parable is similar to the parable of the “Unforgiving Official” (Mt. 18:23-35) in which the man who was forgiven much did the opposite to others: he showed himself merciless and unforgiving. Jesus makes clear that great love springs from a heart forgiven and cleansed. Peter the Apostle tells us that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1Pet. 4:8). It was love that motivated the Father in heaven to send his only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus, to offer up his life on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. The woman’s lavish expression of love was an offering of gratitude for the great forgiveness, kindness, and mercy Jesus had shown to her.
The stark contrast of attitudes between Simon the Pharisee and the woman of ill-repute demonstrates how we can either accept or reject God’s mercy and forgiveness. Simon, who regarded himself as an upright Pharisee, did not feel any particular need for pardon and mercy. His self-sufficiency kept him from acknowledging his need for God’s grace – His gracious gift of favor, help, and mercy. Where are we at in this story? St. Ambrose said once upon a time that “The sinner is not cast out; he casts himself out.”
Fr. James P. Morgan