Fr. Lewis says forgiveness opens the heart and frees people who are mired in sin, hatred and anger. Photo/Courtesy of via Flickr []

Forgiveness opens our hearts wide

  • June 2, 2016

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

We usually think of a “flash of recognition” in positive terms — a form of enlightenment. But David’s experience of this recognition was disturbing and even devastating. His climb to the top of the heap as king of Israel had been successful but not pretty. It had involved a lot of questionable decisions and actions, but he seemed disinclined to quibble — after all, it had worked. He had almost unlimited power and wealth — what more could one want? 

In fact, it was not quite enough. With all of the arrogance and sense of entitlement that often accompanies wealth and power, David took a fancy to another man’s wife. His dalliance with Bathsheba resulted in her pregnancy, so to conceal his sin, he arranged to have her husband Uriah killed in the field while on campaign. All seemed well, but that is where Nathan the prophet entered the scene. Claiming to bring a case for the king’s judgment, Nathan related David’s crime in veiled terms in the form of a story. David was outraged at the “villain” in the story and bellowed that he should be killed. At that point, Nathan pointed at David and gave him the bad news: he had been talking about him all along. Nathan then pronounced God’s judgment: the sword would never be far from his house. Rebellion would arise in his own house, and he would be deposed temporarily from the throne (omitted verses). 

David’s denial and arrogance collapsed and he confessed his sin to God. Although David was forgiven, the judgment came to pass; his entire household was torn by treachery, rebellion, conspiracy, rape and murder. The kingdom was torn apart, and the after effects continued for generations. 

We often lie to ourselves and justify our questionable actions. Our darkness gets pushed deeper within us, but it peeks out from time to time when we project it on others. 

We can be very quick and condemning in recognizing the injustice in other people or in institutions, but we have to claim our share of the darkness too. Political scandals come to mind — often those howling the loudest for blood are later shown to have feet of clay. Righteous indignation might feel good at the moment, but we can be left with the uneasy feeling that we have overlooked something vital. 

Perhaps Paul was thinking of this when he wrote Galatians. Why is it important to realize that we are not made right with God by works of the law? Doing good is always desirable, but care must be taken not to be deluded into thinking that we have earned our salvation and have a right to it. It is too easy to take refuge behind a smokescreen of good deeds while turning a blind eye to the darkness within. Christ alone is holy; Christ must dwell within us. 

We can feel for the poor woman in Luke’s story. She burst into an all-male banquet, exposing herself to negative judgment and humiliation. It didn’t slow her down — she continued washing the feet of Jesus with her tears and wiping them with her hair. (Just a side-note — this was not Mary Magdalene as commonly thought.) 

The host harboured negative thoughts towards the woman as well as to Jesus. After all, if He were really a prophet He would have known what kind of woman she was and would not have let her touch Him. Jesus knew exactly what was going on and challenged His host with a story. Two debtors owed sums of money to a man, the first a small sum, and the second a large one. Since neither could pay, the man forgave both the debts. Jesus put the question to them: which of the two will love the creditor more? Answer: The one forgiven the most. 

Exactly! Forgiveness unleashes the ability to love and to be merciful in both parties. He contrasted the extravagance of her love with the very stingy love of His host. 

Forgiveness opens the heart wide; forgiveness frees people who are mired in sin, hatred and anger. 

In this year of mercy (and every year), the practice of compassionate mercy is something we do for the recipients of our mercy. It is also something we do for ourselves. When mercy is the norm, all benefit and flourish.