The Church’s first scripture for Sunday Mass today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of 2 Samuel.
The Book of Samuel is one of the most remarkable books in the Bible. It details the rise and fall of the Kingdom of David, providing details about the Israelite Kingdom ruled by David and his successors. Because it deals with real people and real events, the Book of Kings can be rightly described as a history book. But more than a history book it is also a brilliant work of literature, a study in human character and desire. But more than a history book or a work of literature it is also a magnificent theological statement, presenting the truth that God is not merely a distant, cosmological force, but an active and interested presence in all of human affairs- religious, yes, but also politics, economics, art, indeed all of culture.
(If you like “Game of Thrones” you will like the Old Testament Book of Kings).
Today’s excerpt from the Book of Samuel presents a dramatic confrontation between King David and the prophet Nathan. David had committed adultery and, to cover up his crime and because he desired to marry another man’s wife, a woman by the name of Bathsheba, he had the woman’s husband murdered in an elaborate scheme. The man he had betrayed and murdered had been a trusted advisor and loyal friend.
Through his actions, David had indicated that he had succumbed to the great temptation that afflicts all men and woman of worldly power- this temptation is to act as if you are accountable to no one for your actions and exempt from any standard of justice other than the standard you create for yourself. David the King’s actions demonstrated that he believed that he was accountable to only himself- not the law, not the prophets, not even God!
And Nathan sets David right. He confronts David, exposes his treachery and then places a kind of curse upon him and his house. The violence and treachery he had inflicted on the man he murdered would be visited upon his own family. In the prophet Nathan’s words “the sword shall never leave your house”.
Overcome with guilt, David repents of his crime and his sin. Nathan assures David that God is merciful, but that David, because of his treachery, will have to endure troubling consequences for his actions, and only through enduring these consequences can the wrong he has done be set right.
Worldly power is dangerous and easily gives way to destruction if we succumb to the same temptation that afflicted David the King. If we come to believe we are accountable to no one but ourselves, if morality becomes merely an exercise in self-interest, if we come to believe that we are above the law, and not even answerable to God, our arrogance will give rise to destruction- if not only for ourselves but also for others.
God is not mocked and his creation bends in accord with his justice. We can break his commandments, but we cannot evade the consequences of our defiance. We may, in the immediacy, receive some benefit from breaking God’s commandments, but in the long term, God’s justice prevails.
David the King’s treachery would haunt his family for generations. In fact, in the great drama of the Book of Kings, it is David’s treachery against an innocent man that is the beginning of the fall of his Kingdom.
Our second reading for today is an excerpt from a New Testament book, St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.
In this text, St. Paul testifies that he has been delivered from something that he call “the law” and his deliverance from this “law’ has made possible a new kind of life- a way of life that he describes as a relationship with Jesus Christ.
It is through this new way of life that St. Paul has been given the opportunity to become ever more and more like Christ, and through this opportunity his life has been given a meaning and purpose that he had not dared dream was possible. St. Paul declares that what he describes has changed his life for the better and that what he has received is God’s greatest gift.
The “law” that St. Paul has been delivered from is his former way of life. St. Paul had been a violent man, whose zeal for the righteousness of his causes had made him cruel. His cause had been the destruction of the Church. Yes, in his former life, St. Paul had been a persecutor of the Church. He had hated Christ and hated Christians, but Jesus Christ intervened in his life in an extraordinary way. The life of meaning and purpose that Jesus Christ gave St. Paul was a life of friendship with Christians. Christ had given St. Paul a new way of life called the Church.
It is the purpose of the Church to introduce people to Jesus Christ and invite people to share friendship with Christ in the Church. Once people know Christ, and come to love him, and are then willing to serve him, then they receive the extraordinary gift of becoming like Christ. If fact, this is the point, the purpose, of the Church- to help people become ever more like Jesus Christ. Of course, this will not happen if we construe the purpose of the Church to be that of a clubhouse or institution, or if evade the invitation to know Christ as a friend, to love him and to serve him. Stop thinking of the Church as a thing that you manage and control. Start thinking about the Church as a way of life that gives meaning and purpose to your life.
If you are a Christian, your mission is to share with others what Christ has given to you. What Christ gives you is a unique way of life called the Church. If you are a Christian, your mission is to become like Christ yourself, so that you can help others to become like Christ too!
Today’s Gospel presents an extraordinary scene in which Christ demonstrates that what he desires most of all for those who have sinned is that they repent and find in him the gift of forgiveness and with that forgiveness, a second chance and a gift of peace.
The Gospel presents a contrast between a Pharisee and a woman who is described as a “sinner”, a designation that likely denotes that the woman was a prostitute.
Pharisees were members of a religious movement that emphasized keeping the commandments of God will meticulous and intense zeal. This particular Pharisee in the story, a man named Simon, evidently believes that his zeal for keeping God’s commandments makes him morally superior than others, especially those people, like the woman, who evidently do not keep God’s commandments.
It seems that Simon the Pharisee has divided the world into those who keep the commandments and those who don’t. In his estimation there are commandment keepers and commandment breakers and it is to his credit that he is a commandment keeper. As for those who are commandment breakers, Simon only has contempt. Note that Simon thinks that commandment breakers are so repellent to him that merely touching one is to be contaminated by their sin!
Christ sees through the pretense of Simon’s apparent virtue. Simon knows the commandments of God, he even observes them, but he doesn’t know the God who gave the commandments or the purpose for which he gave them.
God gave us the commandments as a means of rescuing us from misery, the misery we impose on ourselves when we act contrary to God’s will for our lives. Following the commandments leads to human flourishing and that is what God wants for us all- he wants us to flourish.
But what about those people who break the commandments? What does God want for them?
Simon thinks God wants commandment breakers shunned. Christ, who is God, reveals shunning sinners to be precisely what (he) God doesn’t want. God wants sinners to repent, to be forgiven, to be restored. If this happens, he wants sinners to experience mercy, not scorn.
God in Christ rejoices that the woman who is a sinner has repented. Simon, who is zealous in his concern for keeping God’s commandments, should too.
Today’s Gospel evokes the meaning of Pope Francis’ words when he referred to the Church as a “field hospital”. Sin wounds us and what those wounds need is healing. In a world in which there is not only such resistance, but also ignorance of God’s commandments, the walking wounded are all around us.
For some, the wounds of sin are so catastrophic, that they seem to be not only the walking wounded, but like unto the walking dead!
If the walking wounded come to the Church, come to field hospital, will they meet in us the scorn of Simon or the healing power of Christ?