The Advantage of Sinning
June 17, 2007
Is there an advantage to sinning? I know this is a scandalous question, but it is the issue that Jesus discusses in today’s gospel. Therefore, since it is a potentially dangerous question, let’s clarify a few things at once. We all know that we are called to avoid sin because sin is an offense against God and against our neighbor. To follow Christ, we are called to holiness. This is both obvious and understandable. Yet it would be important to keep these truths in mind as we look at today’s gospel, because in the gospel Jesus takes our notions of sin and twists them into a creative new insight—an insight which is for our benefit.
What happens in the gospel? Jesus is eating in a friend’s house, in the house of Simon the Pharisee. A woman who is a notorious sinner comes and begins to minister to him. In his mind Simon questions why Jesus is allowing this woman to touch him. So Jesus tells the parable. A man had two debtors. One owed him ten times more than the other, and yet he forgave them both. “Which one”, Jesus says, “will love him more?” And Simon rightly responds: “The one who is forgiven more.”
What Jesus does in this parable is reveal to us a truth about God and about our sinfulness. When we sin, that failure can lead to repentance. If we ask God for forgiveness, God will never refuse us. If we accept God’s forgiveness, it will increase our appreciation and our love for God. If that is true, then the one who sins more and is forgiven more, will have a greater appreciation and love of God. So Jesus, in a clever way, presents an advantage to sinning. If sin can lead to repentance and to forgiveness and if forgiveness leads to love, then the one who sins more, will love more. Now, this parable is certainly not asking us to sin, but it is telling us that no one understands the love of God more deeply than the sinner who is forgiven. And no one can grasp the depth of God’s love more than the sinner who has sinned greatly.
Why would Jesus bring this truth to our attention? He wants us to live differently. He wants us to live with more caution and more hope. If what Jesus says about sin and love is true, we should be cautious about judging the sinfulness others. We might correctly say that this or that person is selfish, unjust, and violent. All those things could be true, but sin need not be the end of the story. It is possible that sin could lead to repentance and God’s forgiveness. Such forgiveness could then lead to a deeper love of God. Forgiven adulterers, slanderers, thieves, and bigots know God’s love better than anyone else. They might have a deeper relationship to God than we do. We should be cautious about judging them.
We should also be hopeful. We should be hopeful when we sin. Not that we should encourage sin, but sin, if it leads to forgiveness, can actually increase our love of God. In this sense, even our mistakes can lead us forward. When we recognize and repent from the way we have mistreated others, from the way we have rashly judged others, from the words that we have said that we cannot take back, from the poor decisions which we have made and cannot erase–we need not despair. When we repent of our sins, we can have hope, because God will forgive us and our love for God can grow.
So today, Jesus asks us to be cautious about judging others and to be hopeful when we are ourselves sin. Sinfulness need not be the end of the story. God in God’s gracious forgiveness, can turn our sinfulness into love. And since that is true, as scandalous as it is: The one who sins little, will love little. But the one who sins greatly will love more.
Bring On the Women!
June 16, 2013
There are more women than men in today’s gospel, and that is unusual. The culture in which Jesus lived was male dominated. Both politically and religiously, men were in charge. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the New Testament was written by men from a male perspective. So the presence of so many women within today’s gospel is significant.
The gospel begins with two men, Jesus and Simon the Pharisee, dining at Simon’s house. Then the first woman enters. She is a public sinner and she bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears in repentance. Jesus proclaims her forgiveness. Jesus action towards this woman is not unusual in the gospels. During his ministry he forgave many sinners both men and women. It is logical that the evangelists would preserve these stories to affirm that Jesus had a clear commitment to the marginalized and the sinful. But it is the women who come into the story next who are striking. There are three of them and they are mentioned by name: Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna. These women are not public sinners. They are disciples. The gospel tells us that they traveled with Jesus and supported him through their resources. Now there are several places in the New Testament where we find a listing of the names of Jesus’ male disciples. But it is in this passage that we discover the list of his female disciples. The list reveals to us that these women were very important. They were so important that their names could not be left out, even though the male writers of the New Testament were not naturally inclined to include them. This list of female disciples verifies for us that the community that followed Jesus throughout his ministry in Galilee and Jerusalem was a community of both men and women, a community in which women played an equal role with men in supporting Jesus’ mission.
So since there are so many women in today’s Gospel, it would be useful for us to ask what do they tell us about being disciples. What qualities do they demonstrate which can help us follow Jesus? I would suggest to you there are two: courage that flows from love and generosity that flows from commitment.
The woman who approached Jesus in Simon’s house had courage. Jesus did not know her. Yet she risked approaching him in a public space and ministering to him. She knew there was a possibility for Jesus to turn her aside and reject her. Her action demanded courage. But she found that courage from her love—the love that she had for Jesus in the goodness that she could see in him, the love she had for herself in what she might become were she to find forgiveness. This woman found courage from her love, the courage to act. Where do we need courage with the people we love? Do we need courage to say to our spouse, “You know, it’s not working. Something needs to change.” Do we need courage to say to a friend that their misuse of alcohol or drugs is hurting and even destroying him or her? Do we need the courage to say to some member of our family, “Your constant words of criticism and prejudice are unacceptable. They need to stop.” It is not easy to speak the truth to those we love. But if we follow the example of the nameless woman who anoints Jesus’ feet, we will draw from our love to find the courage to act.
But courage is not the only example that we see in today’s Gospel. Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna give the example of generosity that flows from commitment. The gospel is very clear that these women supported Jesus’ ministry through their presence and financial offerings. (I could add that there is no place in the New Testament where men disciples are said to support Jesus through their financial offerings!) What makes these women so generous? They are committed to Jesus’ mission. These are women who heard Jesus preach, who understood the gospel and accepted it. They wanted it to succeed. So they did not simply accept it in their hearts and pray about it. They generously chose to offer themselves and their resources in Jesus’ service. What in our lives are we are committed to, in what do we believe? Do we allow our commitment and belief to lead us to generosity? We believe in our children. Are we generous with our presence and our time to make sure that they know our wisdom and our love? Perhaps we belong to some group that is important to us. Are we generous with our time to mentor younger members so that they can carry on once we are gone? Perhaps we are committed to a better world. Does that commitment translate into the generosity of helping the homeless and the sick, of protecting the environment?
The women in today’s gospel are not idle. They come to us with a courage that flows from love and a generosity that flows from commitment. Since women seldom hold center stage in the gospel stories, today should be the day when all of us, men and women, recognize the witness of Jesus’ female disciples and follow their example in our lives.
Sin and Love
June 12, 2016
Sin is something we often discuss here in church. We know that we are not perfect people, that we fall short, and that in some real way all of us can call ourselves sinners. But not all sin is the same: there are small and commonplace sins, and then there are large and devastating ones. All of us sin in small ways by being unkind or selfish or bending the truth a bit. But some of us here today could also think of a time in our life when we sinned in a serious way. Perhaps there was a time when we betrayed the trust of a spouse or a friend, a time that our actions severely damaged the financial situation of someone who depended on us, or a time when our words detracted from the reputation of someone in a serious way.
The failure of these serious sins can never be completely erased. Even when we are forgiven, even when we reconcile with the person we have hurt, we must live with the recognition of the damage that our sin caused. God will always forgive us. Others will occasionally forgive us. But forgiveness does not put us back where we were before. Serious sin changes us. It becomes a part of our history. We will always remember that I was the person that caused a serious hurt to someone else. Now because serious sin changes us, we must be careful not to let it define us. We can become stuck in our sin, overwhelmed with self-doubt and hopelessness. Here is where today’s gospel is important.
In the gospel a woman who sinned deeply visits Jesus as he dines at the house of the Pharisee Simon. This woman understands that she cannot erase her sin, that she must live with the damage that it has caused. But she comes, not to deny her sin, but to love Jesus. She bathes his feet with her tears and kisses them. The most important line in the gospel are Jesus’ words, “Her many sins are forgiven because of her great love.” The woman comes, not to erase her sin or its effects, but to love. Her example of love provides a way forward for us.
When we have sinned in a serious way, that sin need not paralyze us. Even though we have sinned, we can still love, and love moves us forward. We can love the people in our life who still belong to us. We can love the new friends we have made. We can love those who are in need and who can benefit from our help. The woman in the gospel comes to Jesus, not because she believes she can erase the effects of her sin, but to show her love. Jesus accepts her love, and Jesus will accept ours as well. When we have failed in a serious way, we must live with the results of that sin, but we still have a future. The future is not to deny our sins, but to show our love believing that Jesus will accept our love. Today’s gospel promises us that Jesus will accept every one who loves as a disciple, as one of his own.