This Is Love

MagdalenThe readings this week are amongst the richest of any we have I think. There are so many directions one can go.

In the first, from 2 Samuel, Nathan, who has, as prophet, anointed David as king,  finds his young king having committed great sin in the killing of Uriah in order to marry his wife Bathsheba. When David faces his sin, he laments, only to be told by Nathan, that his sin has already been forgiven by God.

In Galatians, Paul sets out what will become one of the major points of argument between Catholic and Protestant with the discussion of faith by works or by faith alone. Central to that discussion is the great love Jesus has for us, a love that is unwarranted given our sinful nature.

And then of course we have the great story in Luke of Mary, the sinful woman, who enters in upon a private dinner and becomes the subject of yet another lesson in love and forgiveness.

What is central to all, is that forgiveness is given first. Love follows.

As David comes to the awful realization of his sin, Nathan assures  him:

“The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin:
you shall not die.”

Similarly, Paul says:

I live by faith in the Son of God
who has loved me and given himself up for me.

Yet, it reaches it nadir in the in Luke:

Which of them will love him more?”
Simon said in reply,
“The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”

Debt was a serious issue in Jesus’ time. In fact the poor often lived under crushing debt. Often the end of that was the loss of the land and the peasant and his family had to find other means to secure a living. In fact we know that Jesus’ father was a carpenter or stone worker as was Jesus, so in fact this may have happened to his family. In any case, it was a situation which would have been well understood among those that listened to Jesus’ parable.

To forgive debt, then, was a very great deal. It could and often would mean the very survival of a person or family. It was no small thing. No doubt such a person, forgiven of a significant debt would feel the deepest of gratitude and love to the one who had saved them from such a life of hardship and uncertainty.

It is this context through which we view Mary’s actions.

Scholars widely believe that this Mary was the great Magdalen, the one whom many  believe Jesus ultimately entrusted much of his teaching to, and who in a very real sense is a true apostle, one but barely acknowledged by the Church.

Mary bursts into the room, uninvited and proceeds to do some rather amazing things. First, she has entered a private dinner, not to serve, but to disrupt, something women were not to do in that culture. Further, she touches a man not her husband in the most intimate of ways, bathing his feet with her tears and kisses. She wipes them with her hair, obviously let down, another taboo in her culture. Finally she anoints him with a rich oil, pouring it over his head. In this way she acts as both prophet and priestess in anointing the king.

Simon, the Pharisee is shocked and taken aback. No doubt he is ready to call the guard and have her thrown violently into the street. Yet, of course this doesn’t happened since Jesus now uses the event as a teaching moment.

Jesus juxtaposes Mary’s treatment of him to that of Simon himself. For in failing to give him the appropriate welcome into his house, Simon has indeed shown his disrespect for Jesus and what he believes Jesus stands for. In fact Simon questions Jesus being a prophet, since he believes he was unaware of the sinful nature of the woman before him.

So Jesus explains that Mary has done for him what Simon was unwilling to do, give him the hospitality that Simon neglected.

And we learn something very important as well. And that something is that the love flows from the forgiveness already given.

This is a lesson that we miss, and translation is everything here. The NRSV translates the passage thusly:

So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven
because she has shown great love.

Yet, the American Bible translates thusly:

Her many sins have been forgiven, hence she has shown great love.

The difference is so important. For in the second, we see that it falls in line with the words given in both 2 Samuel and in Galatians.

Mary does not love Jesus in order for her sins to be forgiven. Mary loves Jesus because her sins were forgiven.

That is the great lesson to us. We do not love God in order to go to heaven, or in order to be lovable by God, we love God because God has loved us despite what most no human would do–our grievous sins for which we have as yet not been even repentant! To say nothing of making reparations for. This is LOVE! This is what makes Jesus so worthy of our deepest love and obedience. For he has loved us in spite of ourselves, when nobody would or perhaps should.

This is the lesson too of 2 Samuel, for Nathan assures David who has just realized his great sin, that it has already been forgiven. Of course Paul says essentially the same thing. Jesus died once and for all for all of our sins, present and future, and to all those born thereafter. We are loved in spite of what we have done or will do.

Such love is beyond the pale for most humans. It is “unconditioned”.

Imagine the likes of Mary, a woman who apparently was alone, perhaps shunned by all, suddenly aware that she is loved beyond measure simply because she exists! Is it any wonder that her tears “bathed” Jesus’ feet?

May we all answer the love of Christ with such an acclamation and proclamation as she.


mary-washing-jesus-feetI am greatly indebted to the following for some ideas and facts regarding this reflection:

Tender Protection, by John Foley, S.J.

Move Over Pope Francis and Bring on FrancEs! by Mike Rivage-Seul

15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aliceny
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 10:58:20

    A beautiful, triangulated, study of these readings. Glad that you point out what a big difference there is in bible translations. Thank you.
    (Fr. Foley is one of my favorite authors.)


    • Sherry
      Jun 16, 2013 @ 12:43:19

      Yes Alice, it is often amazing how different the translations can be. This is one where my ever true NRSV let me down for sure. Glad I picked up on it. At Church, the lectionary used the American Bible translation but the UCCB used the NRSV version.Blessings this day Alice !END


  2. Tim
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 12:29:27

    I couldn’t agree more with aliceny, Sherry. A beautiful post today. And the distinction is so important. To love God on the principle that it’s a condition for forgiveness is to totally misconstrue the nature of being forgiven. Forgiveness is a fait accompli–ours for the asking. When we encounter love on that scale–that comes to us undeservedly–it causes us to love God. And I must confess, when I’m at my worst–which is more often than I’d prefer–the knowledge that I’m loved by God is what draws me back to God. It removes all fear and gives me confidence to ask for forgiveness. And that makes me love God even more!!!

    Again, simply beautiful today–and overflowing with important insights. Thank you!

    Blessings always,


    • Sherry
      Jun 16, 2013 @ 12:51:00

      I think it should be obvious, but I tend to forget. It makes the love all the more meaningful when you realize that it given in gratitude rather than in hope for something. The Pharisees always seemed to act publicly “in hope” it seemed to me. I find a lot of fundamentalists when pushed on social justice issues, defend their “no government programs” approach by giving me a list of their charitable acts. I find that off putting, since I tend to think those things are better left between oneself and God. In any event I find it helps me keep the proper perspective in charity by keeping it to myself. Many blessings to you my friend. !END


  3. aliceny
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 13:56:30

    Two comments:
    (1) In the Scripture study that I led in my parish several years ago, I used Layman’s Parallel Bible and Throckmorton’s Gospel Parallels (synoptics).
    Recently, I found a great reference for comparing translations:
    You’re probably familiar with or have used it. It will help you find a verse and then compare that verse is over 40 English translations. See their left column, “Available Versions.”

    (2) I agree with you 100% about certain Christian groups’ attitude toward government (entitlement) programs. Most of these programs, dating back to Johnson’s ‘Great Society,” are intended for essential social service programs for the poor in our society and for education, particularly at the pre-school and early childhood levels. Funds allocated for these programs are less than what is allocated for all levels of military spending — especiallly for our unwarranted incursions into the Middle East that have resulted in senseless loss of life among our own young soldiers our o


    • Tim
      Jun 16, 2013 @ 18:14:32

      Bible Gateway is a terrific resource–I’ve used it for years and actually put the app on my phone and iPad, just to keep it in easy reach.


      • aliceny
        Jun 16, 2013 @ 18:57:31

        You have opened my eyes — and my heart — in more ways than one, Tim

      • Sherry
        Jun 17, 2013 @ 07:14:44

        Tim has that way. I’m a bulldozer, he’s more like a whisper of an angel in your ear. !END

      • Sherry
        Jun 17, 2013 @ 07:13:58

        I haven’t used it in a while. Guess I should take another look.! !END

      • Tim
        Jun 21, 2013 @ 19:49:13

        Aliceny, so kind of you to say that–it touches me deeply. You also have moved me with your faith and commitment and the insights you bring to this ongoing discussion. It’s always a joy to find another believer (like you and Sherry) willing to ask the hard questions and ponder the tough issues. When I’m blessed to be in company such as this, I’m always reminded of Proverbs 27.17: “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.” So I thank you and Sherry for the sharpening you bring to my life and thoughts. Blessings, my friend.

      • aliceny
        Jun 21, 2013 @ 22:52:44

        Thank you, Tim. You are most gracious, discerning — AND — you like truth.
        We who call ourselves Christians have a responsibility to share the word and the person of Christ Jesus at every opportunity. We never know when the seeds that we plant will come to fruition. You and Sherry are doing an outstanding job in that respect. No theological buzz words – just plain lived truth fortified by excellent research.

        At times I discern the presence of spiritual warfare. It is then that we need the protection of the Holy Spirit and St. Michael, the Warrior Guardian Angel. Remember learning about Him?

    • Sherry
      Jun 17, 2013 @ 07:11:52

      I’m unfamiliar with your first book, “Layman’s” but I do have a copy of Throckmorton’s and often use it. It’s a great aid. I also have an interlinier NT which gives the greek translation over the English words. Helpful at times. Glad we agree on the issue of government programs. I come from a belief that part of the “social compact” between citizen and state is that in return for security and service (which I think ought to be mandatory for all people, one is owed a modicum of life necessities in the form of food, clothing, housing, education, health care, and fair wage jobs. But a shocking number of evangelicals seem to disagree. I’ve never quite understood why. !END


      • aliceny
        Jun 17, 2013 @ 09:34:11

        Two additional thoughts re “welfare,” social “entitlement” programs.
        The political right includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in this group.
        ‘Entitlement’ is the wrong word. It obfuscates the original intent of the legislation that created the programs. We would not be in the hole for SS right now if Lyndon Johnson had left his sticky fingers off that employee-employee matching retirement fund to help finance the Vietnam war. The money — plus more that has since been ‘stolen’ from the fund has never been restored to the SS fund. Many Americans do not know this.

        An item that never shows up in the Federal budget is corporate welfare. Pure robbery. No need for it. The corporations are wealthy enough without mooching for handouts.

        A society is judged by how it cares for those who are unable to care for themselves. Guess how we fare using that criterion?

      • Sherry
        Jun 17, 2013 @ 15:10:14

        I think we are down in the 20’s worldwide when it comes to carrying for our own. I agree that the term entitlement is wrong. It is definitely earned in most cases. And I do agree that corporate tax breaks are wrong. Oil and gas have been getting them for decades, and yet they reap huge profits. It’s awful. Thanks for reminding me about Johnson. And I’m aware that the SS fund has been raided and it’s something the left talks about but of course one seldom hears it in the media. !END

  4. aliceny
    Jun 17, 2013 @ 09:40:30

    PS: I goofed. Meant to write employee-employer matching retirement fund…


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