There was this story about a lady who was getting married and was very apprehensive about it. Some of her friends in the church sent her a telegram, simply quoting 1 John 4:18 ("There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love"). But, someone omitted the 1 before John. So it just read: John 4:18 ("For you have had 5 husbands and the one you have now is not your husband...").

We do not know whether the woman in this Sunday’s Gospel had problems with her marriage or her relationships. But this we know. She was so wounded, broken and guilty that all her defenses were down. She was so much in need of forgiveness and acceptance that she was empty of pride.

It is hard for us to admit our own guilt, our woundedness, our sin. It is difficult for us to embrace our brokenness, our weaknesses, and our pains. We do not want to appear weak or let others know that we are shallow and ineffective.

Sometimes we think that if we admit that we are broken, then we have to accept that we cannot help ourselves. Sometimes we think that if we confess that we are guilty, then we have to come clean that we did something wrong. Sometimes we think that if we acknowledge that we are wounded, then we have to find our way to being cured and being treated.

Jesus asked Simon, the Pharisee who invited him, “Do you see this woman?” Simon looked at her and saw a sinner. Jesus looked at her and saw something else. He saw her guilt, her sorrow, her humility, her faith and her love. Jesus saw a repentant sinner anointing his feet with her oil of respect and her tears of shame.

There is a saying that goes, “We seldom see things the way they are, rather we see things the way we are.” How we see others determines our response to their needs. How we look at them determines our response to their wants.

When Jesus saw the woman, He also looked at Simon. He saw hope in the woman. She was repentant but grateful. Her need for forgiveness brought her to her senses. He also saw potential in Simon. He was both judgmental but trainable. His need for answers brought him to a new understanding.

To forgive is not a feeling or a thought, but a choice we have to make. To forgive is to will good to those who do not deserve it, as God does to us. If we can just be honest with ourselves, we do not deserve to be forgiven. But God wills our good even if we are not deserving.

If God grants forgiveness even before we accept it, then we are to do the same to those who wronged us. That is the only requirement for the prayer He taught us: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Saying “I love you” may not be enough. Saying “I forgive you” may be the beginning of a new and another “I love you.”

Forgiveness and love go together. God loves us, that is why He is so forgiving. Love is shown so well in moments of forgiveness. Had forgiveness not been granted, love would not have been shared. Had love not been expressed, forgiveness would not have been given.

Not to forgive can be a great burden. Not to forgive can do more harm to the unforgiving than to the one who did the harm. Not to forgive can do more injury and damage to the one who could not forgive than to the one who did the damage and injury.

If Jesus were to ask us today, “Do you see this man? Do you see this woman?” what are we going to tell him? We might think like Simon did, that this woman or man next to us is weak, beneath us, inadequate, incompetent, a sinner. Or we might look at this man or this woman next to us as another son or daughter of God, precious in His eyes, valuable in His presence, struggling to be holy and close to God, and constantly in need of forgiveness.

After all, there is a sinful woman and a Simon in each of us. To be forgiving is not just a necessity but an obligation. And to be forgiven is not just a consequence but a promise.

12 June 2010

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