I love this Gospel [Luke 7:36-50, the Gospel from yesterday]. I love how bluntly St. Luke introduces the repentant woman, by saying, “Now, there was a sinful woman in the city.” He doesn’t beat around the bush. And you know, there are a lot of sinful men and women in the church today. I don’t just mean the person next to you, I mean you, and I mean me.
That term “sinner,” it sort of stings, doesn’t it? We don’t want to remember all of the times we’ve fallen short of the glory of God? We like looking back on our “Greatest Hits,” as it were, not our “Greatest Misses,” not our “Blooper Reel.”
So it’s easy to relate to both of the people in today’s Gospel: we know what it is to sin in an embarrassing way; but we also know what it is to forget that we’re sinners, and to turn our noses up and judge when other people sin. Simon’s not the center of the Gospel today, but he’s the one I want to talk about today.
The Gospel today is from St. Luke, and he’s the only one who records this beautiful story. But the other three Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and John, all mention another instance, roughly three years later, in which Christ is again anointed in the house of Simon, this time, in preparation for death.
St. Mark records that second banquet this way (Mark 14:3): “And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the jar and poured it over his head.”
Did you catch that detail? The man called “Simon the Pharisee” in Luke’s Gospel is apparently the same man known in Matthew and Mark’s Gospel as “Simon the Leper.” Now, obviously, they’re not suggesting that Simon had leprosy while he was hosting a dinner party. They’re suggesting that, apparently, this is a man was a leper who was miraculously healed by Christ.
So Simon knows what it’s like to face the scorn and stigma from society, to be alienated and looked down upon. It’s only when he forgets this, when he goes from leper to Pharisee, that he’s able to turn up his nose at the broken and repentant woman on his floor.
And Christ constantly warns us about acting in this Pharisaical way. For example, the parable about the servant who was forgiven a huge debt, but then refused to forgive his neighbor a small debt. The Master says to that man, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:32-33).
We need to be constantly on guard against this: wanting to be forgiven while refusing to forgive others. Every day, when we pray the Our Father, we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we refuse to forgive others, we’re asking God to hold us to our own unforgiving standard.
This is a hard message, because it’s hard to forgive others when we’ve been hurt. Jesus recognizes it. When He introduces the Our Father, this is the only one part He feels the need to explain. But He doesn’t say “forgive, unless it’s hard.” He says, “if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
So how do we learn to forgive those who have hurt us? A good starting place is to remember that we’re sinners, too. Christ begins to work on Simon by gently reminding him that he’s like a man who’s been forgiven a debt of “fifty day’s wages.” That’s a large debt. So that’s what I want to leave you with today: we forgive because we want to be forgiven, and we forgive because we’ve been forgiven.
This is the last of three practice homilies that I prepared this week as part of my preparation for the priesthood. I realize that this is a different format from the sort of blogging that I normally do, so I’d love to hear your feedback? Should I keep posting homilies, as they’re drafted? Or would you prefer for me to keep with the long-form blogging that I normally do around these parts?