“Life is difficult.” That is the opening sentence of Scott Peck’s classic book The Road Less Traveled. Though I would agree more fully with his statement if he had said “Life is sometimes difficult”, he makes a point. Life has its moments that are difficult. And often what makes life difficult is our experience of pain. Pain comes in different forms, doesn’t it? I can deal with physical pain. Most of the time, a few ibuprophens are enough to do the trick. (I had this issue with my neck that took a lot more than that!) Forgiveness of the mistakes of others is another kind of pain, but grace of an easy disposition has allowed me to experience the healing salve of forgiveness as the way to work through those. Life is too short to worry about many things. But, what do you do when the pain of failure hits you square in the eyes? That is the most difficult pain for me to face.
In today’s gospel, we hear three possible responses to the pain of failure – the woman who was a known sinner, and the scribe who was the host of the party, and finally, the response of our savior to both of those choices.
The woman’s response to her failure was to acknowledge it – to face it in its full depth. And whether it is the thought of “How did I ever grow up to be THIS?” or the pain of realizing how far she had fallen, when she hears that Jesus will be at a banquet, she springs into action. So she just shows up at the party, which in itself is not too out of the ordinary. In the cultural world of Jesus, banquets were village affairs. The invited guests would be seated at table, and whoever wanted to show up and watch the affair could stand around the edge of the courtyard. The people at table could initiate conversation with the onlookers, but not so much the other direction. So when this woman breaks the social custom by approaching Jesus and entering that inner circle, she has made a ‘statement’ about her willingness to face her failure. There was no hiding from the pain here – by entering the inner circle, she knew that people would talk about HER. She does not let shame, embarrassment, or her fear of being judged anew stop her. Rather, she listens only to her desire to be free and to move past the failure. And she listened to that part of her gut that knew to whom she had to go. That is what led her to weep at the feet of Jesus.
The Pharisee – whose perfectly planned meal and dinner with Jesus was so rudely interrupted by the spectacle of the woman, weeping and kissing the feet of Jesus (think of a person from the street coming into the last wedding reception you were a part of, and doing that to the bride and groom and you’d get a bit of the discomfiture of the situation) had another way to deal with the pain of failure. He chooses not to SEE his own failures and shortcoming. As long as there is someone worse than he (the woman) he can ignore his own sinful choices and his own failure. And even when Jesus tells the rather pointed story, he still does not see HIMSELF as a debtor. Nor does he see Jesus as the one who is willing and able to forgive sins. Unless Simon can see himself as “the sinful man” and acknowledge his debt, he cannot be forgiven. Unless he identifies Jesus as the one who can forgive his debt, he cannot turn to him in love and repent.
Finally, there is the response of Jesus to both parties. He didn’t run from the woman’s sins and tears and sorrow as awkward as that might have been. Nor did he hide from the hardened hearts of Simon and those who were judging her in their hearts. Rather, in both cases, he offered the divine mercy, the forgiveness of the debt, and the chance to begin anew. That stance of Jesus toward all who approach him, should give us great confidence in our own failures – that we can approach the throne of mercy and love.
So here is my summer challenge for you all. Go to confession at least once this summer. Make an examination of your stance toward your own failures and sins. And whether you weep over your failures as did the woman, or ignore them or project them outward as did the Pharisee – let this summer be an opportunity to make use of God’s remedy for our failures – the sacrament of reconciliation.
Great sinner or small sinner? Great debt or small debt? In one sense, it does not matter. You see, God is neither put off by our tears nor discouraged by our hardness of heart around our sins. His one desire is that we be free to love. And he knows the power that happens when we are forgiven – those who have been forgiven much love much. Allow our Lord to unleash that power within you…