Sermon for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“Her sins, her many sins must have been forgiven or she would not have shown such great love”. 

In today’s Gospel we hear one of the most beguiling, bewitching and challenging stories of the Gospel.  Tradition tells us that the woman with the bad name may well have been Mary Magdalene and as we know, she became, after her meeting with Christ, an evangeliser and a zealous worker for the Lord, such is the nature of the forgiveness of sins.  The woman in the Gospel had a bad name which means she would have been the sort of person that you would have walked by on the other side of the road and ignored.  Despite everything, she braved an all-male gathering to which women and certainly women of a bad name would never have been invited.  The woman comes as one scorned and rejected, not invited but determined on only one thing, to show her love of Jesus Christ.  The Gospel is a teaching on the meaning of forgiveness of sins, but before anything is a teaching on the nature of love.  There are perhaps three levels of love that this Gospel could speak of.  It will be the third level that will take us to God and is a love that comes from God and this must be the desire in our hearts.

The first level of love is that when it is conditional, determined and controlled by human motive and manipulation.  It is the love that Simon and the Pharisees would have recognised and perhaps we ourselves as well.  Simon and his friends look at the action of the woman and they want to judge, criticise and condemn her.  Also, they criticise Jesus for not acting as the prophets acted, or so they think.  Their closed minds to the actions and purposes of God and the needs of men, leave them sneering.  They are the sort of people so determined by the letter of the law, that they cannot help others find their way to God.  In the Second Reading today, Paul speaks of blind observance of the Lord whilst failing to have faith in Jesus Christ.  It’s almost as though you can hear the Pharisees and Simon saying “Perhaps this woman wants something material”, “this woman’s behaviour is improper and sexually suggestive”, “she’s a bit crazy and she wants to embarrass all the important people of our world”.  For Simon and the Pharisees and those not converted to Christ, it is saying that our relationship with God must be on our terms, it must be conditional and so with our love “I will only love, if you give me back what I want”.

The second level of love is that level when we sometimes speak of having fallen madly in love and that we are blind in love.  We can say ourselves saying of other people that they are totally smitten and they have lost their sense of proportion and their normal codes of behaviour have gone out of the window.  It’s almost as though when we are in love that we do not expect anything in return and we are ready to be hurt and cast aside.  This love is an unconditional love, and opens itself up to the love that we will meet in the woman with a bad name.

The third level of love is that that we read of in today’s Gospel and we can simply say it is about falling in love with God.  When we have the true nature of love, then we are ready to go in our relationship with God where we would rather not wish to go.  Perhaps it means giving up a relationship, a lifestyle and being ready for purification, rejection and suffering.  A true relationship with Christ is all about risk.  It’s almost as though we are like a patient on an operating table in an operating theatre.  God is the doctor and our love is our preparedness to take the anaesthetic.  When we accept the anaesthetic, we take a risk for perhaps we may not wake up or the doctor may be clumsy with their hands.  So it is with our relationship with God, we do not know where he is going to lead us.  When we are insulted or rejected, it’s the invitation not to return insult with insult but to return it with a smile, a prayer and an act of love.  When we surrender in love then God restores to the beauty he gave us in the first moment of creation.  Remember how it was when He looked with pleasure and joy upon Adam and Eve before they fell into sin.  They were like Our Lady, they knew only the call to love God with all their hearts, soul and their mind.  For a moment stand back from today’s Gospel and ask what does the forgiveness of sins mean.  The woman meets and comes to know the beauty of being perfect in God’s eyes.  She has come only to love God and as part of that journey of love, Christ will burn away her sins with his mercy.  When we were baptised our souls were made pure and white and we were ready for Heaven.  Indeed it is said when a soul is baptised and it were to die immediately, it would go straight to God and would not need the purification of purgatory.  This Gospel story is about trusting in love in God completely.  When Our Lord appeared to Saint Faustina in the Devotion of the Divine Mercy he asked that she should trust in Him and that the words “I trust in you” should be shown everywhere.  We are called in love to trust in God for he wishes to purify and sanctify us and so make us whole.  That act of trust is true love.  It is the love that we are called to if we want to walk the same way as the woman with a bad name.  We read once again in the Gospel today “Her sins her many sins must have been forgiven her or she would not have shown such great love”.