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This Sunday there are two stories about forgiveness in our liturgy at Mass. From the Second Book of Samuel we hear the story of King David whose sin is pointed out to him and then declared forgiven by the prophet Nathan. The gospel reading from Luke tells the story of Jesus forgiving a sinful woman in the house of a Pharisee, who can’t seem to believe in forgiveness when he sees it.
The two stories complement each other. They remind us that forgiveness is not a simple matter; it’s a mysterious gift of God.
King David’s sins are well known and nothing to be proud of. He lusts after Bathsheba, the wife of Urriah, one of his officers. When David fails to disguise his adultery, he arranges to have Urriah killed and then marries his wife. The king’s sins are more than sins of lust or murder; his sin is an abuse of power. David’s the king, with absolute power over his subjects, answerable to no one, he thinks. He can do anything he wants and no one stands in his way. Unfortunately, he’s lost a sense of guilt; his conscience doesn’t bother him. He’s a king who can do no wrong.
Notice, though, that David recognizes sin and injustice in others. When the prophet Nathan tells him the story of someone who robs a poor man of his precious lamb, David immediately wants to right the wrong. Nathan says “ You are that man.” But David’s blind to his own sin, and so the prophet must awaken him to see what he has done. If you’re blind to sin, how can you be forgiven?
Finally, David admits; “‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ Nathan answered David: ‘The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin, you shall not die.’”
Now, the woman in Luke’s gospel who goes to the house of the Pharisee, unlike David, knows she’s a sinner and rejoices in the forgiveness she finds in Jesus. She expresses herself with that extravagant gesture of love. “Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind Jesus at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.”
In Luke’s story, it’s the Pharisee who’s blind. He can’t see forgiveness or the love behind it. He’s blind to God’s love, first of all, welcoming the sinner, and to the woman’s love that comes from being loved so much. He doesn’t seem to think forgiveness exists and he doesn’t understand it.
Simon, the Pharisee in our story, is like the Pharisee in Luke’s parable about the two men praying in the temple. He sees himself “unlike the rest of humanity, greedy, dishonest, adulterous.” He’s too good to need forgiveness. His blindness comes from self-righteousness.
Luke’s gospel is filled with sinners. Let’s be like them: the sinful woman, the prodigal son, the tax-collector Zacchaeus. They all recognize they’re sinners and they end up rejoicing at a banquet. They enjoy the mercy of God.