Confronting and forgiving sinners

When I first read the first reading in today’s lectionary (2 Samuel 12: 7-10, 13), I didn’t see its relation to the Gospel – the public sinner who washes the feet of Jesus to the consternation of the Pharisee (Luke 7: 36-50).

The prophet Nathan confronts King David with his sin – impregnating Bathsheba, having her husband Uriah killed, and then taking her as another one of his wives.

In one way, both readings talk of God’s mercy and forgiveness. “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.” Nathan tells David. “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace,” Jesus tells the woman.

God’s forgiveness is a crucial message today.

As Gustavo Gutiérrez commented (Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year, p. 167) :

In the context of our violent and vindictive society, we should reflect more creatively on the effectiveness of pardon granted not as a sign of weakness and impotence but as an expression of a love which can generate new behaviors that respect the dignity of [persons] and build up authentic peace and justice.

But something else struck me.

Nathan clearly tells David that he has sinned in killing Uriah and taking his wife as his. But Jesus does not ever mention the particular sin of the woman who washed and anointed his feet.

David did not recognize his sinfulness, but the woman’s tears reveal her recognition of her sinfulness.

But there is something else.

David is a man of power, whereas the woman is an outsider, despised by the Pharisee and others. The outsider is received with mercy and compassion and is sent away with a sense of her dignity” “Your faith has saved you.”

Often, the powerful need strong and direct words so that they might change.

God seeks the conversion of all – but is more direct with the powerful. The weak are treated with mercy and compassion – and understanding.

So too in our speaking of sin we should probably be more critical of the powerful than the weak.

But it is easy to demean the poor for their supposed laziness and sinfulness. How often do we neglect to speak forcibly to the rich and the powerful. We want to get on their good side, to get some benefits – financial or other.

But God loves the poor, the sinful, the outsiders with a special love.

Should we do any less?

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