This Week's Reflection from Fr. Bob Warren, Franciscan Friars of the Atonement: An Uneven Score
An Uneven Score
is taking a risk in today's gospel. He accepted an invitation to dine
at the house of a Pharisee. Jesus was pretty hard on the Pharisees. They
were religious extremists, and very opposed to Jesus and his teaching. I
get the feeling in this gospel that Jesus was invited to this dinner as
a kind of entertainment, because as we later learn that Jesus had been
snubbed by the host. It was customary to provide water so that the
guests could wash the dust and dirt of their feet, but Jesus had not
been afforded this courtesy. All the guests, including Jesus, are
reclining at the table, when a woman enters, unannounced and uninvited.
She is not a stranger. She is well-known in the city. Her reputation is
built on sinning. She comes in and stands at Jesus' feet and cries.
Not only that, she wets his feet with her tears. Then finally, she does
something unforgiveable. She lets down her hair. A woman never did that
in public. She uses her hair to dry His feet, then she kisses His feet
and anoints them with oil. Now, the host Simon is upset. Doesn't Jesus
know who she is? What kind of a woman she is?
woman entered a room, and two different men look at her and see totally
different realities. One sees a woman who wants to be liberated from
the life of shame, and seeks forgiveness and compassion. He recognizes
her as a child of God. The other man is blinded by his social position.
He says, if this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman
this is. But Jesus did know. He knew full well. He knew more about her
than she knew about herself. He knew that she sincerely repented her
sins, her many sins. She did not say a word. She had no need to. Her
actions spoke volumes. Then, He says these simple, but beautiful words,
"Go in peace. Your sins are forgiven."
scripture shows us very clearly how God forgives those who repent. He
forgives without reserve. God cannot help but forgive, for He loves us
too much not to. But what does it mean for God to forgive? It does not
mean that my sin is no longer a fact. Every infidelity of mine is
indelibly inscribed in history. What, then, does it mean? For God to
forgive me is to change me, not just skin deep, but at the very roots of
my being. The sheer act of asking forgiveness, wanting forgiveness,
shows a change.
are fortunate that God does not forgive the way we do, very often, we
forgive grudgingly. We will say, "I suppose I must accept your
explanation." But what has passed has given me a different view of your
character and things can never be the same again. What if God forgave us
like that? We usually forgive in proportion to the laceration which an
offense has caused to our own feelings, not in proportion to the sorrow
which is felt by the offender. What if God forgave us like that? We
forgive conditionally. "Very well," we say, "I will consent to overlook
it for this once, but remember, if the same kind of thing happens again,
it is the end." What if God forgave us like that?
are probably few of us who have not been hurt or know people who have
been hurt deeply. A spouse has walked out of our lives, children have
disappointed us, parents have abused us and friends have betrayed us.
The company to which we gave so much devotion has fired us without
notice, leaving us unemployed and bitter. We have been refused a
promotion, we have been treated unfairly. There is a host of deep and
abiding hurts in the personal histories of most of us, but forgiveness
is hard, isn't it? To consciously break the vicious cycle of revenge is
World War II in Russia, a 15 year old boy saw the enemy for the first
time. There were over 10,000 Germans being held as prisoners of war by
the Russian army. The Germans were being marched through streets of
Moscow. The pavement swarmed with people, mostly women. The Russians
had lost nearly 10 million soldiers, so every one of them had lost a
father, a son or a husband in the war. The women gazed in hatred at the
prisoners. They clenched their fists. The soldiers and the police did
all they could to keep them back. Then all at once, something happened.
They began to see these German fighters were little more than boys,
wearing dirty bloodstained bandages, hobbling on crutches or leaning on
the shoulders of their comrades. The German soldiers walked with their
heads down. The street became silent. The only sound came from the
shuffling of boots and thumping of crutches. The young Russian boy said
of this scene, "My mother pushed herself through the police line, and
from inside her coat, took a crust of black bread. She pushed it into
the pocket of a young German soldier who was so exhausted that he was
tottering on his feet. Then suddenly from every side, women were
running towards the German POWs, pushing into their hands bread,
cigarettes, apples, whatever they had." When the women saw the Germans
hobbling through the streets of Moscow they were no longer the enemy.
The men who had killed their relatives, they were victims, and the women
felt for them. There was an outpouring of empathy and compassion. The
violence they had intended was no longer in their hearts. It was no
longer "an eye for an eye" and "a tooth for a tooth," but it was like
taking care of human beings in the image and likeness of God. Jesus
Christ would approve. Forgiveness, after all, is the deliberate
decision to put up with an uneven score, and that rubs us the wrong way.
point is, we are not just anybody. We are a community that was born out
of Calvary's forgiveness, always called to be a reconciling community.
If we practice "an eye for an eye" and "a tooth for a tooth" we are only
going to end up with a world full of toothless and blind people. We
cannot forget that we are commanded by Christ to pray to the Father in
these words: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass
Just one last thought—if the woman in the gospel were to walk into your Church, would you receive her?
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Robert Warren, S.A.
P.S. On Father's Day, June 19th, the Friars will remember all fathers, living or deceased, at a Special Father's Day Mass at Graymoor. Please send me their names right away so the Friars and I may lift them up in prayer during our special Mass.