Your sins are forgiven

2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13: Nathan said to David: 
“Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 
‘I anointed you king of Israel.
 I rescued you from the hand of Saul.
 I gave you your lord’s house and your lord’s wives for your own.
 I gave you the house of Israel and of Judah.
 And if this were not enough, I could count up for you still more.
 Why have you spurned the Lord and done evil in his sight?
 You have cut down Uriah the Hittite with the sword;
 you took his wife as your own,
 and him you killed with the sword of the Ammonites.
 Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house,
 because you have despised me
 and have taken the wife of Uriah to be your wife.’
 Then David said to Nathan, 
“I have sinned against the LORD.” 
Nathan answered David:
 “The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin:
 you shall not die.”

Luke 7:36—8:3 or 7:36-50: A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him,
 and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.
 Now there was a sinful woman in the city
 who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee.
 Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment,
 she stood behind him 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.
 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself,
 “If this man were a prophet,
 he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him,
 that she is a sinner.”
 Jesus said to him in reply,
 “Simon, I have something to say to you. Two people were in debt to a certain creditor;
 one owed five hundred day’s wages and the other owed fifty.
 Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both.
 Which of them will love him more?”
 Simon said in reply,
 “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”
 He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon,
 “Do you see this woman?
 When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet,
 but she has bathed them with her tears
 and wiped them with her hair. 
You did not give me a kiss, 
but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered.
 You did not anoint my head with oil,
 but she anointed my feet with ointment.
 So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven
 because 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.”

By Abbot Owen Purcell

In both these readings we are witnesses to the turning points in the lives of two sinners. We hear of David’s forgiveness in the reading from 2 Samuel and the forgiveness of the woman who washed the feet of Jesus in the house of Simon in the Gospel. To approach these stories at their climax might be like seeing the last episode of The Sopranos and missing the first seven years.

Nathan had confronted David before. David was the king who slew his tens of thousands, especially chosen and anointed by Samuel as the second King of Israel. He was the Golden Boy who had everything. Nathan recounts how he lusted after Bathsheba, got her pregnant, set up her husband Uriah to be murdered in battle and married Bathsheba once her husband was dead. This was the King, the Chosen, the man who was to have Jesus as a member of his royal line! This was a man who thought that he was so special that he could get away with murder.

Just previous to this reading in Second Samuel, Nathan, the prophet, had told David a story of a man who had a small sheep that a very wealthy neighbor coveted to the point where he became obsessed with having that sheep of the poor neighbor. The rich man wanted the sheep so badly that he had the poor man killed so he could take the sheep. David asked Nathan who that man was so that the King could punish him? Nathan looked David straight in the eye and said, “That man is you.” David said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “ The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.”

How often have we who can become so indignant at the actions and words of others, had the voice of Nathan say to us in the depths of our hearts, “That man is you!” “That woman is you.” Point a finger at another man or woman and three are pointed back at you. Have we wished Paris Hilton, a person we judge to be a spoiled, pampered little rich girl, all the pain, punishment, and anguish possible, a maximum term in jail, humiliation and suffering for driving when she ought not drive? And yet have we done the same with a lot less money in our account? Have we offered the excuse of illness to mitigate punishment? To skip work? Have we played roles to gain sympathy? Have we done foolish and stupid things? If we have, then that woman is us.

Have we lied to protect secrets or our friends to maintain power and position? Have we done wrong willfully, willing to take the punishment, to use every angle of appeal and the law to save ourselves, compromised ourselves by making friends with those in power so that we might be secure? Maybe not on as grand a scale as Scooter Libby but still we might qualify to be that man!

But on the other hand, though we are “that man” or are “that woman” how often have we heard the words of Jesus in the Sacrament of reconciliation and from our real friends, that Jesus said to the woman, perhaps a Paris Hilton of her day, a woman apparently unclean, and who touched Jesus, “Your sins are forgiven.” When we can see ourselves as sinners in need of forgiveness then and only then, we can begin to be a friend of Jesus.

Abbot Owen Purcell is a monk at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kan.

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