Nicholas King Si 11th Sunday of the Year
Putting stress on forgiveness
2 Samuel 12: 7-10, 13 Galatians 2: 16, 19-21 Luke 7: 36-8: 3
THE GOSPEL stories that appear only in Luke obviously tell us a good deal about the evangelist; but in some ways we learn much more from episodes, such as today's, which appear in Mark's gospel also, for if Luke had Mark's gospel in front of him, as seems likely, then the alterations he has made are highly significant.
The reader might like to contemplate our passage sideby-side with the original in Mark 14:3-9. There are several points to notice here, each of which tells us something about Luke's approach to the gospel, and hence about the way in which God's word comes to us this Sunday.
In the first place, Luke introduces this episode at a different point from Mark and Matthew; in the other two gospels it introduces the Passion and explicitly foreshadows Jesus' burial, and leads into the debate about the relative values of an extravagent sign of love and giving to the poor. Luke, by narrating the episode at a different moment of Jesus' ministry, alters the emphasis, and makes it a story about forgiveness.
This element of forgiveness is underlined by Luke's insertion at this point of the parable of the two debtors: and it is further underlined, of course, by the emphasis, which we meet with in Luke alone, that the woman is a sinner. This point is also delicately made by the characteristic Lucan touch that, whereas in Mark and Matthew the woman's reward is that "she will be remembered wherever the gospel is preached", in Luke's version Jesus rewards her by saying "your sins are forgiven".
Those words contain in themselves all the power that is in the gospel, to restore what was alienated, and we are, each of us, that repentant woman, for each of us has greatly sinned, and there lies in wait for each of
us that ready forgiveness that the woman encountered.
The power of the gospel is precisely that in each episode such as the one on which the Church asks us to meditate today, not only do we see, in the form of an acted parable, what the love of God is like; we actually experience that love of God, healing and forgiving, as we let the story take us over, for this is, we must never forget, the word of God and has the power to enhance and change our lives.
Jesus' parable is therefore also uttered to us, for each of us is the carping Pharisee who cannot imagine that God might forgive prostitutes, whose categories and preconceptions are so rigid that the possibility of the woman's passionate and healing love for the Lord cannot for a minute be seriously entertained.
Luke emphasises more than all the evangelists that the gospel embraces the marginalised (such as prostitutes) and holds out to them the serious possibility of salvation, and two delicate touches in the present passage to which we may draw attention make this point with some skill.
The first is that in Mark and Matthew the host is one Simon "the leper". Now in Luke, lepers, being on the margin of Jewish society, are rated as prominent among those to whom the gospel is directed, and Luke is going to have Jesus address some pretty sharp remarks to his host, so we discover, with no real sense of surprise, that here the host is not a leper but a Pharisee.
Secondly, for Luke women are likewise an oppressed class to whom the gospel is directed, and therefore it is that this story leads into the account, found only in Luke, of the women "cured of evil spirits and ailments", who thronged round Jesus It makes a most graphic tailpiece to today's gospel, and underlines how God chooses his friends according to his own standards, not according to ours.