Luke 7:36-50
Unilateral Forgiveness
by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at table.  Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee.  Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.  When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner."  Jesus said to him in reply, "Simon, I have something to say to you."  "Tell me, teacher," he said.  "Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days' wages and the other owed fifty.  Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both.  Which of them will love him more?"  Simon said in reply, "The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven."  He said to him, "You have judged rightly."

Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman?  When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment.  So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love.  But the one to whom little forgiven, loves little."  He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."  The others at table said to themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"  But he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

Afterward he journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.  Accompanying him were the Twelve and some woman who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.

Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven” (cf. Lk 7:36-50).  What beautiful words from our Savior to this sinful woman.  A wonderful act of forgiveness and mercy, except that … she had not asked for it.  In fact, no one in the Gospels asks for His forgiveness – not the paralytic lowered through the roof for healing, not the jeering crowd on Calvary.  Yet, He forgives them anyway.  This woman, by her gestures of repentance – bathing His feet with tears, drying them with her hair, and anointing them with oil – she comes the closest.  Her actions speak what she in act never says: “Forgive me.”

All of which emphasizes God’s initiative: He forgives before we ask.  He bestows mercy even though we are unworthy of it.  He does not require that we be perfect in order to be forgiven – that would be a contradiction.  He does not insist that we ask in just the right way, with all our i’s dotted and t’s crossed.  That would amount to Christian reincarnation: Keep try until you get it right.  No, He extends forgiveness before we are ready, before we even ask.  So, when we ask for forgiveness we are not try to change His mind, as if He has to be cajoled and persuaded.  Rather, we are availing ourselves of something already extended to us.  We ask for His forgiveness, not so that He will give (for He already has) but so that we can receive.

This should give us confidence in approaching the sacrament of penance.  Forgiveness awaits us there already.  We enter the confessional not to convince the minister to forgive but to avail ourselves of what he is there to give.  The requirements for a good confession (examine the conscience, make a firm purpose of amendment, list the sins clearly and do not withhold mortal sins) are not tests or hurdles, but how we open the soul to receive forgiveness.  And even after all that no one can say he confessed perfectly.  No human act of repentance can sufficiently express the gravity of sin or make one worth of mercy.  So, like the woman in the Gospel, we sort of barge into the confessional and awkwardly but sincerely give expression as best we can to our sorrow for sin and desire for reconciliation.  Forgiveness awaits us in the confessional.  We simply need to avail ourselves of it.

Our Lord’s initiative in forgiveness – His unilateral decision to forgive before anyone asks – should likewise shape our mercy toward others.  We pray daily for a correspondence between God’s mercy and our: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

God extends forgiveness before we are worthy, before we even ask.  We, however, hold grudges and say, “I will forgive so-and-so when he comes ad asks.”  Or “I will forgive her when she shows me she is sorry.”  What if God did that?  What if He withheld His mercy until we had performed some act worthy of it?  We approach Him in confidence precisely because we know that He forgives despite our unworthiness.  Others should feel the same freedom with us.

That is what it means to love one’s enemies – to make the interior decision to forgive, whether or not the other asks for our forgiveness.  The day may come when the person asks, in which case we can be reconciled.  Other times, sadly, that day may never come – in which case we imitate Our Lord even more by bearing in our hearts forgiveness for those who have not asked.  Christian forgiveness goes forth before the offender has repented, despite his unworthiness.  That is how Christ acts toward us and how we ought to act toward others.

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