Last Sunday’s readings all deal with the topic of sin and forgiveness, which is appropriate in the current Jubilee Year of Mercy.
The first reading — 2 Samuel 12:7-10,13 — comes in the aftermath of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and coverup by arranging for the death of her husband, Uriah. Although David’s conduct merits death, his admission of guilt is sufficient for him to obtain God’s forgiveness.We should note that David does not try to make excuses or minimize the wrong (“I wasn’t on the prowl: if she hadn’t bathed on her rooftop, I’d never done anything,” or “Uriah might have been killed in battle even if I hadn’t written the letter to his commander.”). He knows and acknowledges his responsibility for his own actions. This is a good example for us to bear in mind. Certainly, there can be situations where our responsibility is diminished because of limits on our freedom to choose what we do or because of ignorance. But when our sin is freely and knowingly committed, like David’s, our repentance should not be combined with excuses.
The responsorial psalm — verses of Ps 32, with refrain based on verse 5 — is a meditation on how good it is to receive God’s forgiveness and help, punctuated by a plea for forgiveness.
In the second reading — Galatians 2:16, 19-21 — Paul insists that we are justified through faith, rather than through the “works of the law.” It is clear from the rest of his writings, that Paul does not consider right conduct unnecessary or sin to be inconsequential. The Pharisees (in the gospel we’ll see Jesus at a meal in a Pharisee’s house) had identified 613 commands in the Law, and they believed that being a faithful Jew depended on understanding what each one required and following it exactly. Paul write to the Galatians because some Pharisaical Christians told the Christians of Galatia that their salvation depended on their observing all these commandments — which would include circumcision and keeping kosher, among other things. Paul, himself a Pharisee, insists that if keeping those commandments could save someone, then Jesus isn’t the Savior. It is faith in Jesus as Savior that unites us with God. Clearly, Paul doesn’t dispute the importance of right conduct in the life of a believer. Jesus was very clear on its necessity, but God forgives our sins because of the saving work of Jesus. We do not save ourselves.
In the gospel — Luke 7:36 – 8:3 — we hear of Jesus’ encounter with a Pharisee and a notoriously sinful woman. The Pharisees would not wish to have contact with such a sinner. Jesus insists on the primacy of love. The Pharisee hasn’t acted with the sort of open-hearted love as the woman who, as a prototypical Christian, recognizes in Jesus the means of her forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Like David, she offers no excuse for her behavior. Unlike David, she expresses her sorrow for her sins in actions, not in sincere words. Her love brings forgiveness; her being forgiven will increase her love. Jesus concludes the encounter with words echoed by Paul: “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
The reading concludes with a synopsis of Jesus evangelizing travels, with a note about a group of women who supported him in it. Several of those women had also been recipients of God’s mercy through Jesus, like the woman in the Pharisee’s house.
We must realize that we are all sinners. Thus we are all beneficiaries of the mercy of God which comes through Jesus Christ from the “Father who never gives up until he has forgiven the wrong,” as Pope Francis put it in the document declaring the Jubilee Year.