June 17, 2007


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

Forgiveness is a difficult subject. Humans tend to equate it with weakness, with capitulation, with letting someone get away with obnoxious behavior. We require satisfaction, even if it means holding on to a grudge that slowly eats away at our soul.

Our Lord characteristically turns this emotional reaction (it certainly isn’t reasoning) on its head. He insists that forgiveness is vital to our emotional & spiritual growth & health. Contrary to the plot of most movies nowadays, it is love, not hatred or revenge, that best defines what it means to be human; & forgiveness is one of the factors that makes love possible.

Lurking in the background of today’s Gospel story is the seriousness of sin, which some folks today describe as “alienation” or “separateness”: the connotation is one of being cut off, isolated, radically alone. That this is the worst thing that can happen to a human being is attested by the fact that the ultimate punishment for some prisoners is solitary confinement. It is also the consequence of sin, which puts us in self-constructed prisons without bars – so subtle that we do not even recognize them as prisons.

Christian faith thinks this alienated condition is so pervasive that it is original. Although it does not destroy the good creation, it is coextensive with it. It afflicts everyone. The fact that sin is pervasive is part of its camouflage. It is taken as normal life, just the way things are.

However, when someone who is in communion with God & neighbor breaks into human life, sin’s cover is blown. In the free life of this one person the prisons of others are exposed. It is in the presence of grace that sin is clearly seen for what it is. In this sense, Jesus did not badger people to repent. He didn’t have to.

The seriousness of sin is that it teaches us to believe a lie about ourselves & to defend that lie against the revelation of truth. It tells us we are isolated individuals with scarce resources & meager means who need to step on others in order the live. But when we turn from this lie, we become extravagant lovers of God & neighbor. We find ourselves living by a greater life not of our own making.

That was the source of this woman’s extravagant gesture. Having experienced forgiveness, her sins no longer had power over her. The Pharisees are unable to grasp this simple connection between love & forgiveness. They think Jesus is forgiving her sins, but He is merely confirming the fact that her love witnesses to the experience of forgiveness.

The emphasis on not on divine forgiveness so much as on her courage in responding to it. It had freed her from her past, & her gratitude knew no bounds. Have we ever experienced such exuberance in the face of such awesome love? AMEN!