Who Even Forgives Sins

(Homily for Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C)

Bottom line: Like David - and like the penitent woman in the Gospel - we acknowledge our wrongs and turn to the One who even forgives sins.

Some of you remember Bishop Sheen's television program: Life is Worth Living. He often began with a humorous story. Once Bishop Sheen told about a priest who visited a mining community. When he arrived, the miners lined up for confession. The first man said, "I can't think of any sins, Father. I haven't murdered anybody." A bit irritated, the priest said to him, "Look. Get out of here and make a good examination of conscience." So the man stepped out. He turned to the others in the line, "It's no good, boys," he said, "Father's only taking murder cases."

Well, today's first reading is about a murder case. King David had committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba, then had her husband killed so he could marry her. David thought he had gotten away with murder. He would soon learn differently. The prophet Nathan confronted David: You might be able to escape the judgment of men, but you cannot escape the judgment of God. David had to face the consequences of his sins and the punishment was terrible. But that is not the main point. David received a further word. Nathan said to him: "The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die."

We hear Davidís response in today's Psalm. If you look it up in the Bible, you will see that Psalm 32 is a "Psalm of David." It expresses his joy: "Blessed is the one who fault is taken away, whose sin is covered."

I recommend Psalm 32. It is one of the greatest expressions of pure joy that we find in the Bible - or in any book, for that matter.

We see the joy of forgiveness in todayís Gospel. A woman - widely known as a "sinner" - approaches Jesus. She bathes his feet in tears of remorse. This upset the others. Now, people today might think they were just a bunch of uptight hypocrites. Before we jump to that conclusion, we need to see their point of view. They reacted to that woman the same way we would react to someone who corrupts youth and wrecks homes. Jesus himself did not make light of her wrongdoing. He spoke about her sins, "her many sins." Only after delivering God's judgment does Jesus add these wonderful words: "Your sins are forgiven." A person can easily imagine her relief - the joy she could hardly contain.

Jesus' words startled the others not because they thought Jesus was treating her lightly.* What upset them was that Jesus claimed authority to absolve sinners: "Who is this who even forgives sins?"

What does Jesus' forgiveness mean? Anthony DeStefano had a nice comparison in his book "Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To." One of the prayers He always says, "yes," to is: "God, forgive me." God's forgiveness, DeStefano says, is like a man who loses a key and has to call a locksmith. The locksmith does all the work. When he hands over the key, the greatly relieved person can now open the door with almost no effort. It seems like magic.

So it is with the forgiveness we receive from Jesus. Jesus has done everything for us. He took human flesh, he suffered, he died on the cross. He hands us the key so we can make a new beginning, a fresh start. For that reason, Jesus says to the repentant woman, "Your sins are forgiven."

Jesus wants to say the same words to you and to me. When we say the simple prayer, "God, forgive me," He always says "yes." Forgiveness does involve a process that includes sorrow, change of behavior, confession, retribution and absolution.** Still, the moment we say, "God, forgive me," we can be confident he answers, yes. We have before us the example of the penitent woman who Jesus forgave. And like King David, we can know the incomparable joy of God's forgiveness:

"Blessed is the one who fault is taken away, whose sin is covered." Like David - and like the penitent woman in the Gospel - we acknowledge our wrongs and turn to the One who even forgives sins.


*In our culture, we readily get the idea that Jesus simply brushed aside her sins: "It's no big deal. Why are you guys so judgmental?" Or that he absolved her of blame: "It was not her fault. An abusive home, an unjust economic system, etc., etc., caused her to take the wrong path." There may be some truth in that, but it misses the point. Jesus knew the full horror of human evil, but he forgave sin by taking the penalty on himself. See Forgive or Excuse?.

**Anthony DeStefano gives a good explanation of why forgiveness includes the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But we should know that the moment we ask for forgiveness, God does grant it. People sometimes make a mistake. They fall into some sin and then realize that they won't be able to go to confession until Saturday. So they say, "Well, I already committed one grave sin. I may as well commit others." This is a mistake for two reasons. First of all, every sin has a negative consequence. But more to the point, we need to take seriously the words of the Act of Contrition: "I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, do penance and amend my life." When we say that prayer sincerely, God does forgive our sins - in light of the resolution to make a good confession. My own advice is this: When you realize you have committed a serious sin, immediately ask God for forgiveness and make an act of contrition. Plan on receiving the Sacrament of Penance as soon as is reasonably possible. Even though reception of Communion requires confessions, you can still be assured that God's forgiveness is immediate - understanding always that the repentant person intends to complete the necessary process of confession, amendment and sacramental absolution.

Spanish Version

From Archives (11th Ordinary Sunday, Year C):

2016: Becoming a Disciple Week 2: No Excuses
2013: What David Did Not Say
2010: Who Even Forgives Sins
2007: Rejoice, You Just

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