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.
Tender Protection, by John Foley, S.J.
Move Over Pope Francis and Bring on FrancEs! by Mike Rivage-Seul
- A Prophet, a Pharisee, and a Loving Woman (friarmusings.wordpress.com)
- She who loved much (maryslittleflower.wordpress.com)
- In the Company of Women (ckisler.wordpress.com)