Mercy Ever New
Eleventh Sunday of the Year. Fr. Allan White reflects upon how today’s readings teach us about the ever new mercy of God.
The celebrated American twentieth century evangelist Billy Sunday once said ‘I am against sin. I’ll kick it as long as I’ve got a foot. I’ll fight it as long as I’ve got a fist.’ King David and Simon the Pharisee agreed with this approach. Like many of us, they were against other people’s sin. At Simon’s dinner Jesus tells a story in response to Simon’s scandalized shock that Jesus should offer forgiveness to the penitent woman. The story is about two debtors. Simon sees only one at his table. Nathan the prophet tells a story to David to uncover the king’s adultery. It is about a rich man who robs a poor man of his prized ewe lamb. Simon and David condemn themselves in the response they make. David confesses his sin as the woman acknowledges hers but Simon’s guests are left questioning: ‘who is this who forgives sins?’ We are not told if they ask for forgiveness for themselves. They do not show faith but it is the woman’s faith, not her dramatic gesture that has saved her.
God never tires of beginning again with us. His mercies are new every morning and great is his faithfulness. Since Adam’s fall God has sought us out to bring us back to sit at his table. David was a man after the Lord’s own heart. In his story we see something of a re-telling of Adam’s own story. Saul had been chosen to be king but fell from his high vocation like Adam the patriarch. David, a man after God’s own heart, as a type of the second Adam, replaced Saul, an image of the first Adam. David repeats the mistakes of Adam his ancestor. He glimpses the forbidden fruit, Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife and saw that she was good and reached out to take her. Like Adam he sinned in relation to a woman. It was his sin and not the woman’s. Adam committed a form of spiritual adultery. David committed actual adultery. His sin led him to repeat the sin of Cain. Uriah was one of his closest followers. They were brothers in arms. David ordered his death. Brother killed brother. As with the Fall the consequences of David’s sin was division, fragmentation the rupture of the bonds of kinship, love and loyalty. Simon in his righteousness has accepted those consequences as normative. His life is ruled by boundaries and frontiers. The woman who intrudes herself into his house does not belong in his society and should be shunned. Jesus should know that. If he does not know that he is not a prophet. If he does know that he is not a prophet. If he his not a prophet Simon need not heed him. Simon does not realize that there are two debtors.
Forgiveness means we can begin again but we still carry with us the consequences of our sin and the damage our selfishness has caused. David’s braking of the bonds of loyalty and justice means that his kingdom will know division from then on. His family and his people will rebel against him. In the end the kingdom will be divided and broken as he has broken with the Lord. The woman of dubious reputation must return to her family and her neighbours. She is forgiven but their forgiveness cannot be presumed. She must try to live the gift she has been given. In Simon’s house there was more than one debtor, but only one asked for forgiveness.