daily biblical sermons


SIN AND FORGIVENESS
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, Eleventh Sunday of the Year, June 12, 2016
2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13, Psalm 31, Galatians 2:16, 19-21, Luke 7:36-8:3


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat at table" (Luke 7:36).


This is the account of the sinful woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Jesus then tells a parable to the Pharisee who invited him, indicating that the reason she shows so much love is because she was forgiven for so many sins. She is kissing Jesus' feet as an act of loving gratitude and thanksgiving for having forgiven her, presumably at some previous meeting with him.


Jesus' parable that explains this to the Pharisee is: "‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?' Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more.' And he said to him, ‘You have judged rightly'" (Luke 7:41-43). The debtor who is forgiven more will love his creditor more. The implication for this woman is that she was forgiven for more sins than the Pharisee, and therefore she now shows more love than he does towards Jesus, who it seems forgave her at some previous meeting. He who is forgiven much, loves much, "but he who is forgiven little, loves little" (Luke 7:47).


Forgiveness is something freely given. We do not earn forgiveness of our sins by our good works. Our faith is what receives God's free forgiveness. We must have faith in Jesus Christ and true repentance to receive forgiveness. To be forgiven we must be truly sorry for our sins and have a firm purpose of amendment, and we must come to Jesus in faith to receive his free gift of forgiveness.


So here is this woman expressing her faith, repentance, and love of Jesus, all together, as she kisses his feet and anoints them. What is she trying to say by this gesture? She is saying, "Jesus, I believe in you. You are the one who forgives me for all my sins. I kiss your feet to humble myself in sorrow before you for my sins, and I love you." Her faith and repentance receive Jesus' forgiveness, and she thanks him for it by this humble, faith-filled, loving gesture. So Jesus tells her, "Your sins are forgiven" (Luke 7:48), and "Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (Luke 7:50).


Two things seem to be happening here: 1) Jesus previously forgave her, and now she is expressing her thanksgiving and gratitude by this loving gesture. And 2) Jesus is once again forgiving her now, perhaps for new sins, and he is attracted to forgive her by seeing her great faith and humble repentance, expressed in such a loving gesture of washing his feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, and anointing them with oil.


In any case, God's forgiveness in Jesus is free, a free act of mercy, but it requires on our part faith in Jesus Christ and repentance for our sins, and this repentance must include a firm purpose of amendment.


How is it that Jesus has the power to forgive our sins, make us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), and born-again believers (John 3:3)? St. Paul explains this in our second reading today, where he says, We "know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified" (Galatians 2:16).


Here St. Paul tells us that God declares us righteous not because of our good works according to God's moral law, but only because of our faith in Christ. Why does he say that? He says that because we are so alienated from God by our many sins that we cannot reconcile ourselves to him by our own good works and sacrifices and penances. None of these will be able to reconcile us to God or save us from hell as the just punishment for our sins.


That is why God intervened and sent his own Son to reconcile us with himself. Jesus is this Son, and he sacrifices himself in a painful death, suffering as a criminal on a cross, not for his own sins, but for our sins, to make just reparation for them before the Father in order to satisfy divine justice on our behalf, suffering vicariously for us what we owed God for our sins, instead of us suffering it.


And how does this help me? It helps me when I accept Christ with faith as my Savior, for then God counts Christ's suffering as paying my fine, my debt of suffering, that I owed God in just punishment and reparation for my sins. It is my faith in Christ's work on the cross for me that allows God to apply the merits of his death to me to be able to justly forgive my sins, since Christ justly paid for them on the cross.


Therefore sinners who are sorry for their sins, have a firm purpose of amendment, and call out to Jesus with faith, asking him to save and forgive them, especially within the sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:22-23), will be forgiven and declared righteous by God. No works are needed for this or can help reconcile us to God, because it is only Christ's work on the cross, not our sacrifices, penances, and good works that win our forgiveness and justification. Our good works must then follow as a result of justification. They do not precede it as its cause.


Finally, our first reading today is about King David's adultery with Bathsheba. David expresses sorrow and admits his sin, and the prophet Nathan assures him that God has forgiven him.


Adultery is a serious mortal sin that alienates one from God and will send him to hell when he dies if he does not repent of it and break up his adulterous relationship. If he confesses it and abandons this sin, God will forgive him if he calls upon the merits of Jesus Christ's death with faith, because then the reparation that Christ's death on the cross made for our sins will be applied to him through his faith. God will justify him because of his faith; that is, he will declare him righteous and just.


He may then receive the Eucharist and sacramental absolution (John 20:22-23). If, however, he intends to continue living in an adulterous relationship, he cannot receive the Eucharist, for he will desecrated it, as St. Paul says, "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:27). Since he is living in an unrepentant constant state of mortal sin, he is unworthy to partake of the Eucharist. If he were to do so, it would be a sacrilegious desecration of the Eucharist.


To receive God's mercy, forgiveness, and justification we must call out to Jesus Christ with faith, and faith always includes repentance for our sins. Genuine repentance means that one is sorry for his sins and has a firm purpose of amendment.


A person living in an adulterous relationship, who has no intention whatsoever of amending his life and breaking up his adulterous union, lacks genuine repentance and saving faith, and so cannot be forgiven or justified, nor can he receive the Eucharist or sacramental absolution (John 20:22-23). He remains in a constant state of mortal sin, for every time he has sex with his partner, who is not his wife, he commits a new mortal sin. He is thus alienated from God, and can expect to be punished for all eternity in hell when he dies if he does not repent in time, and he can die suddenly at any moment without any chance to repent.


If a Catholic couple that are divorced and civilly remarried (that is, living in adultery) want to remain together for the sake of their children, the only way they can be given permission to receive the Eucharist and sacramental absolution is for them to promise before a priest to live chastely in complete continence, as though they were brother and sister, refraining from all acts that are only permitted to validly married people. And they should receive Holy Communion only where their marital situation is unknown, in order to avoid giving scandal.

 

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