June 13, 2010


The one to whom little is forgiven, loves little. – Luke 7: 47

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks Simon the Pharisee pointedly, “Do you see this woman?” Yes, Simon did, he quite clearly saw her as an inferior person, a sinner, & what’s more, he just as clearly saw Jesus as a fraud, a phony prophet, because if Jesus saw what Simon did he’d have nothing to do with this woman.

But Jesus DID see. He had no illusions. He saw that she WAS a sinner, but he also saw something else too. He sensed genuine repentance in the air. He recognized love. It is Simon’s blindness that makes him see what the woman before him is & not what she can be. His blindness also prevented him from seeing who Jesus really is. That is why he played it cool & he, the correct & perfect host, did not give Jesus the customary amenities of water & towel for his feet, the greeting kiss, or oil for his head, the very things the sinful, inferior woman did give.

In short, Simon is one of those who put people in categories & identifies them by race, sex, age, economic status, or their mistakes. Simon doesn’t seem to be able to see beyond the woman as she is, or the great love she can show. Simon simply could not see that far, that this woman could be a contender for holiness, a somebody other than what she was: a sinner.

What about the woman? How did she see herself? As only a sinner, or possibly as a forgiven sinner? When she boldly approached Jesus, did she have in mind the story of David in our first reading who sinned grievously but through the prophet saw his evil ways & repented? Could she hope for a replay here? How did she see Jesus? Simon saw Jesus as a deluded fraud, but the woman saw Him as mercy incarnate because she had heard good things about Him.

Years later, one wonders if that other forgiven sinner of our second reading, Paul, heard both the stories of David & this woman & saw that his ways & his sins need not define him forever. Whatever. All this is indeed Good News, that Jesus sees differently than Simon the Pharisee. He sees us not only as we are or have been, but as we can be & so He sets the stage for forgiveness.

Around the year 190 a man named Carpophorus set up a bank for his fellow Christians, particularly widows who needed a safe place to keep their limited funds. He had a slave named Callixtus who had some experience in managing money, so he put him in charge. Callixtus made some bad investments & also managed some of the money into his own pocket. For this, Carpophorus sent him to jail to do hard labor. Eventually, the ruined depositors prevailed to release Callixtus in the hope that he might recover some of the pilfered money. The first thing Callixtus did was barge in on a Jewish service one Saturday to get back some of the funds from Jewish investors. A brawl ensued & Callixtus was nabbed once more & sent to do hard labor in the salt mines of Sardinia . That should have been the end of him, but somehow he conned his guards to let him sneak out with some visitors. It seemed that prison life had tempered the man & he seemed to be repentant of his former life.

Carpophorus was not convinced & was duly scandalized when a priest named Zephryinus saw love & offered forgiveness. Eventually as Pope, Zephryrinus ordained Callixtus a Deacon & put him in charge of the Christian cemetery on the Appian Way . When Zephryrinus died, the Roman clergy elected Callixtus Pope! Talk about going from rags to riches: that’s nothing compared to going from a con man to Pope!

So there we are: David, the nameless woman, Paul, Callixtus & so many others down through history. The story is always the same. Seen by so many others as irredeemable sinners, they were seen by Jesus as potential saints. It is comforting to know that one of the Gospel’s chief messages is that Jesus sees differently. AMEN!