The Gospel for June 12th, 2016: “The Pardon of the Sinful Woman”
This gospel speaks to me deeply.
I struggle with both the before and after of my own sins. I often know before I commit a sin what I am really doing, and yet I still do it anyways, which is just so illogical and frustrating. And then afterwards, I ask for forgiveness in prayer; which definitely helps, but the guilt does not go away entirely, partly because I put off going to confession right away. It doesn’t always fit in to my schedule conveniently; so I procrastinate, which adds to the guilt and shame. And then there is this deeply engrained pride that rears its ugly head and engenders a fierce resistance to going that compounds the weight of the sin even further. I am afraid the priest will judge me. It doesn’t matter that I know better. I am still afraid of being judged. Furthermore, I am afraid he will ask of me a penance I am not prepared to make. It hasn’t happened yet, but nevertheless, I fear it. As a result, days turn into weeks and sometimes into months before I return to the sacrament of reconciliation.
However, when I read today’s gospel, I find myself thinking how mixed up I am about this sacrament. The benefit of reconciliation is so appealing in contrast to this game of self-loathing and procrastination I play. Jesus doesn’t just begrudgingly pardon the sinful woman; He holds her up to the critical Pharisee as a model of love. He forgives her sins gently. In his conversation with Simon the Pharisee, He shows His preference for her return from sin to the cold pride that motivates the Simon to criticize her sinfulness. He explains about her efforts at penance, “So I tell you, her sins may have been forgiven because she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little” (47). In other words, it is better to have sinned and return heart-felt to God, than to follow the letter of the law out a sense of superiority. The first loves God humbly and renews the only relationship which offers true life. The second trades one sin for another and grows joyless in withholding from the loving dance of God’s forgiveness of sinners. This echoes the lesson of the Prodigal Son. The younger son sins and returns meekly to a joyful reception from his father. The older son is only bitter because he is not seen as better in his father eyes for upholding his duty. Jesus came to make it clear that the purpose of God’s laws are to unencumber us from worldly attachments so that we may freely love Him Who is life. They do not exist to be used as a means to elevate one’s self over others. Love is willing the good of others. In a society that celebrates achievement and goal-orientation, it is easy to pervert abstinence from sin into an empty goal that forgets about the mission to love others. It is wrong to stand back unstained, rather than wading into the muddy lives of our fellow sinners to offer help. It is timeless problem of failing to see the forest for the trees.
I pray for all those like myself who struggle with reconciliation. May the lesson of Jesus’s pardon of the sinful woman move us to return to confession without fear and in anticipation of God’s loving embrace. And as a result, we return back to the world brimming with God’s love to share with others. I also pray for all the Pharisees who have traded loving sinners for judging them in the misguided belief that following rules alone is a path to salvation. May they see that it is only in willing the good of others in both thought and deed that we can truly experience the love and peace found in Jesus Christ.