Repentance, forgiveness will set us free

  • June 5, 2013

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

For some people there is no such thing as “enough” — more power, money, fame and control over others is an obsession. King David had been given everything: dominion over the land, the crown of Israel, deliverance from danger and countless other blessings. God would have even added more if only David had asked. God only asked that David remember these kindnesses and walk in the ways of the Lord.

A dalliance with another man’s wife began his downfall (political scandals are not a modern invention!), ending in treachery and the arranged murder of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. Smug and secure in his unassailable position of power, David took Bathsheba as his wife. All seemed well — but he had not counted on God’s intervention. The prophet Nathan presented the case to David in the form of a parable. Filled with righteous indignation, David declared that the one who had done this deserved death. Nathan’s reply: I was talking about you!

This was a fine example of the human tendency to deny the darkness within oneself and project it on others. Since David offered no excuses or attempts to evade responsibility, God rescinded the death sentence that David had pronounced against himself. This narrative was written much later — after the reign of David — and was a backward look at events that had already unfolded. It attempted to make sense of the many tragedies that tore apart the extended family of David. The author laid the blame for this dysfunctional extended family and its associated tragedies squarely in front of David. Because of his contempt for God and his evil actions, God predicted that the sword would never depart from David’s house and so it was. David’s actions set off a chain reaction of treachery, rebellion, rape, intrigue and murder that ultimately deprived him of several children and destabilized his kingdom and that of his successors. Human sin and evil bear consequences beyond the immediate moment and people directly involved. The after-effects are transmitted like ripples in a pond for generations, affecting families, institutions, societies and nations. There is no sin or evil that is strictly personal and private.

Paul’s writings on justification by faith and the uselessness of the works of the law have suffered from centuries of misunderstanding and misuse in polemical debates. He did not mean that we should not do good deeds or that they are useless. Just obeying the rules or earning our salvation in a calculating manner is not enough. He simply insisted that they be joined with faith, which he understood as a relationship or trust and surrender to the compassionate and saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. That is when the ego begins to melt away and Christ dwells in the depths of our innermost self.

We do not know the personal history of the sinful woman in Luke’s story or the influences in her life that set her on the wrong path. We can say with some assurance that she is not to be confused with Mary Magdalene or Mary of Bethany. She was held in contempt by the host of the dinner, who served as a stand-in for self-righteous religious people of all times and all religions, including our own. The man also despised Jesus for allowing her to touch Him — it didn’t fit his view of holiness. This incident provided Jesus with an opportunity to teach everyone a lesson on the power of both repentance and forgiveness. His parable of the two bankrupt debtors demonstrated that forgiveness of a greater debt spurs greater gratitude and love. Unlike the icy and stern correctness of the host, the woman had been extravagant with her tears and gestures of devotion and love towards Jesus. Jesus observed that she must have been forgiven or she would not have been able to love in such a sincere and open-hearted manner. He told her that her sins were forgiven but it was more of recognition of something that had already taken place.

The power and energy of love that is set free through repentance and forgiveness also travel through time and human communities and it is far more powerful than the effects of evil. We undo the past through repentance and assure a happy and life-giving future through forgiveness.