Those who do God's Word are justified

  • June 4, 2010
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) June 13 (2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:16, 19-21; Luke 7:36-8:3)

There is nothing as painful as the knowledge that one has let God down. God had been very good to David — He plucked him from insignificance and obscurity and anointed him as King of Israel, saving David from his enemies in the process. God heaped blessings on David and was prepared to do even more.

But power is a dangerous drug: as the saying goes, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” David began to believe that he was above laws and limits and that he could do and have whatever he wanted. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband to be conveniently murdered while on military campaign. With a sense of  smug satisfaction he was revelling in the fact that he was absolute lord of his little universe. But through Nathan the prophet, God confronted David — cloaked in a clever parable — with the raw brutality and sinfulness of his deeds. David unwittingly condemned himself, not realizing that the parable was speaking of him.

Now the awful truth comes home to him: he has been ungrateful, selfish, abusive of power and incredibly sinful in his actions. He can no longer delude himself. There will be consequences, for this will tear his family apart in very tragic and destructive ways that are narrated in the rest of the book. But even now, God is forgiving and gives David another chance. David has been called “saint and sinner” — there wasn’t much in the way of sin that he hadn’t done, but he truly loved God and was the “apple of God’s eye.”

We — individually or as nations, groups and religious bodies — can behave in very selfish and destructive ways. It is easy to be ungrateful and to misuse God’s gifts. Sooner or later it all catches up with us and denial will no longer be an option. But God never turns His back on us — humble repentance and the resolution to start over and get it right will return us to the path.

How do we become reconciled and at one with God? Paul insists rather forcefully that it is not through “works of the Law.” Does that mean that the good we do is useless? Does “faith” give us a free pass to a life of selfishness or doing whatever we want? Not at all — elsewhere even Paul himself states emphatically that it is not hearers but doers of the Word who are justified. Paul has been crucified with Christ and in a sense Paul has “disappeared” for Christ Himself dwells within him as his ruling and guiding principle. It is renunciation of ego and surrender to God that is the key — we give up our ownership of the good that we do and any thought that we can earn or manipulate our way into the Kingdom of God.

The woman in the Gospel story (not to be confused with Mary Magdalene) had violated all boundaries. She entered into “male space” and male company, and she touched the guest of honour in a manner that was far too intimate to be acceptable. She was in the grip of deep emotion — her tears were those of devotion and gratitude. She was held in contempt by the polite and religiously correct gathering, and so was Jesus. If He were really a prophet He would have known that she was a sinner and certainly would not have permitted her to touch Him.

The parable that Jesus tells His host turns the tables. Two broke debtors who were unable to pay both had their debts forgiven by their creditor. Which one was most grateful, the one who was forgiven the small amount or the one forgiven the huge debt? His host answered that the one forgiven the larger amount would of course be more grateful. Exactly! Jesus contrasts the very loving and humble behaviour she showed towards Him with the rather cold and superficial reception from His host.

A loveless heart or ungenerous disposition can be signs that one is still a prisoner of guilt, denial, hatred or anger. Forgiveness, either granted or received, is healing and transformative. Forgiveness and love are inseparable.