One of the longer passages in the Reconciliation Lectionary is Jesus’ encounter with the sinful woman during the Pharisee’s dinner party. You know the story, and the parable (41-43) Jesus uses to illustrate his point.
Instead of studying the entire text–which I think might be too long for most form I Reconciliations, I’d like to focus on the notion of forgiveness:
So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven;
hence, she has shown great love.
But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The others at table said to themselves,
“Who is this who even forgives sins?”
But he said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
An earlier edition of the NAB gives verse 47 as such, “I tell you that is why her many sins are forgiven–because of her great love. Little if forgiven the one whose love is small.”
Is there a problem with the old rendering? Because of her love, her sins are forgiven. The updated translation in the latest RNAB–what we are given in the Lectionary–seems to resonate more with the parable in which the person forgiven a greater debt has more cause to love.
The Jesuit Peter van Breemen summarizes thus:
The message is now unmistakable: the very great love of this woman is the fruit of the forgiveness she experienced so intensely.
Jesus gives repeated experiences of forgiveness in the Gospels. Sometimes people ask for it. Sometimes, they just express their enthusiasm, as Zacchaeus did (Luke 19:1-10). Sometimes a person was just caught in the act (John 8:1-11).
Perhaps it is a human tendency, not a godly one, to expect to see some sign. We want our child to come to us with contrite tears for disobedience or deception. We want our spouse to approach us, crestfallen. We want to see a bishop in prison orange.
It strikes me that we should be looking deeper, and that we should be taking less the attitude of Peter (asking if we forgive seven times) and more that of Christ. And if we can forgive the theft of a small cookie, the white lie, and even the cover-up of a grave crime, then perhaps we have something deeper to savor.
“Forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray it as much as anything we utter as Christians. Given our mortal/moral makeup, it would be impossible for us to imitate the sinless perfection of God. But we can certainly make an effort to forgive as Christ so freely offers forgiveness. And we will fail, as the Pharisee friend of Jesus did. But we can be urged internally to try and try again. Because, really: what’s the alternative? Host dinner parties and point fingers at other people? Like that’s not going to come back to haunt us.