Eleventh Sunday: Treasuring Forgiveness
Today’s first reading, from 2 Samuel 12, concludes the detailed story of David and Bathsheba. The story is long, the conclusion is short. The story begins in chapter 11. The army is out fighting a war against the Ammonites and beseiging their city of Rabbah. David had remained home in Jerusalem. After what was probably a long afternoon dinner, and following a nice nap, David took a stroll on the roof of his castle. Don’t think of roof as we normally use the term. Think of a flat roof with a parapet, perfect for David and his guards to see what was happening in the neighborhood. Off in the distance David saw a beautiful woman taking a bath in her yard. The woman must have thought that she was bathing in private, but there was a peeping Tom, or at least a peeping David looking down. David finds out that the woman is married to Uriah, one of his officers out fighting the war. David sins against God and against the officer. Perhaps no one other than God would have known, except the woman got pregnant. Now David compounds the sin. If sin is not repented, then one sin always lead to another and another. Most of the time sin grows exponentially. David tries to cover up the situation by calling Uriah home from the war and sending him to his wife. Only, Uriah is too loyal to David. He remains on guard to protect the king. After trying this twice, David gives up and sends an order that Uriah should be killed during in battle. That was easy to do. At one point the Ammonites left their city to draw the Israelites into a trap. They started a skirmish and then ran back to the city gates. The Israelites followed, with Uriah leading the attack. As he got close to the city walls, the Israelites, fell back leaving Uriah alone, an easy target for the archers on the city wall. Uriah was killed. After learning about the death of Uriah, David married Bathsheba. So he was guilty of adultery and murder. He thought he had gotten away with it, except that God saw what was happening. He sent the prophet Nathan to David who told him a story about a poor man who had a pet lamb and a rich man with numerous flocks who had needed to prepare a feast. The rich man stole the poor man’s lamb and turned it into lamb stew. “What should be done?” Nathan asked David. David, got on his high horse, or camel, or whatever, and declared that the man deserved to die and should pay fourfold for what he had done. Then Nathan hit him with the zinger, “You are that man. God has made you king over Saul. He has given you wealth and victory over your enemies. But you have despised the Lord by stealing the wife of one of your servants and having him killed by the enemy. That is where today’s first reading begins. Nathan tells David that he will be punished with strife within his home and with a shameful defeat before his enemies. As detailed as the story is, the conclusion is quick. David simply says, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan answers, “God has forgiven you. You shall not die.” I am struck that after the immensity of David’s sin, because he is sorry and seeks forgiveness, he is quickly forgiven by the Lord.
A similar situation is presented in the Gospel reading. The woman who anoints Jesus in Simon the Pharisee’s house is a known sinner. Perhaps, she was a prostitute. Maybe she was just a loose woman. Certainly she was someone of such a low reputation that people avoided her. They were afraid that any contact her would cause the sin to rub off on them. They would be unclean. Like the children they believed that if they came in contact with her they’d get her “cooties”. They really did; only they called it ritual impurity. And here, this woman was touching Jesus, kissing his feet, anointing him. Her actions were those of a person seeking forgiveness. Jesus forgave her immediately, no matter how bad she had been.
He does the same for us. He does the same for those who have hurt us, and He does the same for those whom, in our arrogance, we would rather avoid.
Jesus does the same for us. Each of us could look to our lives and be overwhelmed by the sheer malice of our sins and the enormity of God’s mercy. Perhaps we weren’t as evil as David. Maybe we didn’t have the reputation of the woman in the Gospel, but there are still many incidents of darkness we would rather remain hidden. We could dwell on our pasts, but we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t because God doesn’t want us bogged down in the past. He wants us to recognize His Grace, Mercy and Forgiveness and bring this love we have received to others.
There are certainly many people other than us who have been forgiven by the Lord. Some of these people have hurt us, and have asked for forgiveness. We need to forgive them. Quite often we hear stories about people who would rather die than forgive someone. Maybe there is someone in each of our pasts who has hurt us and sought forgiveness and whom we have walked away from rather than be reconciled to. We have an exigency to forgive. Jesus gives life. Hatred kills. He has forgiven us, and offered his life. We need to accept his life and forgive others. “Forgive us our trespasses, our sins, as we forgive those who trespass, sin, against us, is more than a rote conclusion to the Our Father. Those words contain the fundamental action of the Christian: forgive and love for we have been forgiven and loved.
God’s forgiveness is offered not just to us and to those whom we know who have hurt us, but also to those whom we don’t really know but whom we rather avoid. Perhaps they appear to be in the underbelly of polite society. Maybe they are people who have come to the Lord for forgiveness. Maybe they are people who need us to lead them to forgiveness. We are not called to arrogance. We are called to holiness. We are not called to put ourselves above others, as though we are so spiritually superior to others. None of us have experienced the events of another’s life that led him or her to embrace a life of immorality. We are not called to look down on anyone. We are not called to arrogance. But we are called to holiness, to be separate for the Lord. And we are called to lead others to the Lord. What Jesus is saying to us in the Gospel is that we should avoid sin, but not avoid the sinner. If we are arrogant, if we carry ourselves as superior to others in any way, why would they want to join us? The arrogant cannot obey the Lord’s command to evangelize, spread the Gospel. We need to be kind and courteous to people who may be choosing sin in the hope that our imitation of Christ’s kindness may lead them away from their misery and into the Life of the Lord. We were not given the Mercy of God to hoard for ourselves. We were given God’s mercy to share with others, to lead them to live also under the Mercy of God.
In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord called us the “Light of the World.” There are so many people who are living in darkness. Many of us have lived in darkness ourselves. The Lord’s Light dispels the darkness, the darkness in our lives, in the lives of those who have hurt us and in the lives of those who are seeking guidance from the abyss of immorality. We pray today that we might be people of mercy, people of forgiveness, people of Light.