11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 13, 2010
Ask and Give Forgiveness
Lk 7:36 – 8:3
A group of boys went to confession. The priest was puzzled because they all said the same thing at the end: “I threw peanuts in the river.” If it is a sin, it surely is something unusual. The last to come in was the smallest boy. The priest expected to hear from him the same sin, but there was none. So he decided to ask the boy, “Is that all? Have you not forgotten something?” The boy said, “No, Father.” “But,” the priest insisted, “how about throwing peanuts in the river?” The boy replied, “Father, I am Peanuts!” (D. Woodruff).
We are all sinners. Nobody is immune from sin, not even the greatest men and women. In the first reading, for instance, the great Kind David committed a grave sin. Despite his many wives, he still lusted for Bathsheba. In order to have her for himself, he arranged that her husband, Uriah, be brought to the front line of the battlefield. As expected, he was killed in battle. The king’s sin of adultery was compounded with the crime of murder. Yet, he was not sensitive enough of the gravity of his sins. So God sent him the prophet Nathan to shake him out of his spiritual stupor and moral numbness. Only then did he repent and asked God for pardon.
In the Gospel, a woman lived in sin for too long. Fortunately, she had a personal encounter with the merciful and forgiving heart of Jesus. That unique experience must have opened her eyes and led her to a profound conversion. Infinitely grateful for the forgiveness granted her by Jesus, she went to see him at dinner in the Pharisee’s house and tearfully accorded him with her sincere acts of gratefulness and love.
Both King David and the woman of ill repute were sinners. But they were made aware of and had sincere sorrow for their sins. And they received forgiveness from God. They were too glad and grateful to be released from the bondage of sin and enjoy the freedom of the grace of God.
A priest was stunned when during first confession, a boy said, “Father, my sin is, I have committed adultery.” Later on, he learned that what the boy meant was he saw magazines on the sidewalks with pictures of scantily dressed women on the cover. At least, the boy was ultra sensitive to sin, unlike us adults who tend to justify even our grave sins. The greatest danger is not that we fall into sin; rather, that we lose the sense of sin, that we become insensitive to sin. Then we do not realize the need to ask forgiveness, and therefore remain unrepentant and unforgiven.
There is a story about Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte who, on one occasion, granted permission to a Russian prince to visit a French prison and impart pardon to one convict he chooses. The prince interviewed the prisoners, and everyone claimed innocence of the crime they were accused of. They complained of being unjustly punished. Finally he found one who, with sincere sorrow, confessed his guilt and acknowledged himself deserving of the punishment. To him, the prince said, “I have brought you pardon. In the name of the Emperor, I pronounce you a free man.” (Adapted from A.P. Castle). The man was released, but the rest were not, simply because they did not ask forgiveness. As a Japanese saying goes, “Forgiving the unrepentant is like drawing pictures on water.”
This was the case of Simon the Pharisee in the Gospel today. He invited Jesus for dinner in his house. From his behavior, it was obvious that his invitation was not out of respect or love of Jesus. He was looking for an opportunity to have something against Jesus. This explains the awful treatment he gave to our Lord. He did not fulfill the basic requirements of Jewish hospitality: he did not greet Jesus with the traditional welcome kiss on the cheek; he did not offer him with water to wash his feet; he did not pour perfumed olive oil on his forehead. But worse than all these, he was so proud and self-righteous that he did not see his own sinfulness and unworthiness. All he saw was the sin of the woman, the seeming scandal of having her touch Jesus, and the excessive waste of the costly ointment. He was swift to judge and condemn others, but he was blind to his own sins.
The world is full of pains and loneliness because there are many people who are like Simon the Pharisee. We are into the business of judging and condemning one another. Wars and killings continue to persist due to the vicious circle of revenge and violence. There is only one way to achieve peace: forgiveness. The African proverb said it right: “He who forgives ends the quarrel.” Families are shattered, relationships broken, and hearts remain wounded due to our unwillingness to forgive. If God forgives us time and again without fail, why can we not forgive and give fresh chance to a loved one who failed us? What happened to the saying “To err is human, to forgive is divine”? The world becomes smaller everyday, not because of the marvels of technology and communications, but because we lose friends and gain more enemies. Our minds are troubled, our blood pressure shoot up and our hearts palpitate due to stress and lack of sleep brought about by our resentments, anger and vengeful desires. Psychosomatic disorders are common nowadays and, believe it or not, these are caused by unforgiving and resentful hearts.
The Lord wants us to enjoy happiness and peace. That is why he is always ready to forgive us. But there are two conditions to receive his forgiveness: first, we should humbly admit our sins and ask forgiveness. The Sacrament of Penance will surely help us in this. God does not forgive those who are too proud and self-righteous to ask for it. And second, we must also be willing and ready to forgive others. Doing so will not only make us well disposed to receive God’s forgiveness, but will also make us His instruments for peace in the world. We will then be numbered among the peacemakers who are blessed, for “theirs is the kingdom of God.”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa’s Church
New York, NY 10002
QUOTATION FROM POPE BENEDICT XVI
“Thus, the gift of the Sacrament of Penance not only consists in the reception of forgiveness, but also and above all in being aware of our need for forgiveness. With this Sacrament we are purified, we are inwardly transformed and subsequently able to understand others even better and to forgive them.
“For the human being, the recognition of sin is elementary — he is ill if he no longer perceives it –, and the liberating experience of being granted forgiveness is equally important for him. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the crucial place where both these things take place.”
Address to bishops of Switzerland, 7 November 2006