(2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15, Psalm 32, Galatians 2:15-21)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/Uj6P1SMwt_8)
36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 8:1Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
The monthly, Reader’s Digest, recently ran an article entitled, “10 Inspiring Stories of Extreme Forgiveness.” As the title suggests, the article highlights ten true stories from around the world that involve people caught in situations that many people would consider unforgiveable. For example, there’s the story of Matt Swatzell who, after a long shift at the fire department, fell asleep while driving and crashed into another vehicle. The pregnant driver in the other vehicle, June Fitzgerald, was killed and her 19-month-old daughter was injured. Fitzgerald’s husband, a full-time pastor, asked for the man’s diminished sentence and began meeting with Swatzell for coffee and conversation. Many years later, the two men remain close. “You forgive as you’ve been forgiven,” Fitzgerald explains.
Now I suppose we can expect such a response from a pastor, a man trained in the wisdom of Jesus’ forgiveness. But how about the story of domestic violence survivor Pascale Kavanagh? She had experienced abuse from her own mother all throughout childhood. She never thought she would reconnect with her mother during her adult life. However, in 2010, her mother suffered several strokes that left her unable to communicate or take care of herself. With no one else to help, Kavanagh began to sit by her mother’s bedside and read to her. Through this, Kavanagh says the hate she had for her mother gradually dissipated into forgiveness and love.
Then there’s the story about Mary Hedges who was at a mall with her con when two boys pushed a cart over a railing onto her, causing severe brain injury as well as blindness in one eye, and the amputation of her right foot. Even though she suffered a coma and spent weeks fighting for her life, Hedges was forgiving. “I wish them well, I do,” she told ABC News. “I feel sorry for them. My son is 13 also, and he is a very good boy.”
The list presents seven other equally powerful stories of forgiveness but I think you get the point. Many victims can and do rise above themselves and their instinctual need for vengeance. People can understand that when they harbor feelings of vengeance towards those that have wronged them, they ultimately harm themselves the most. Fixating on the wrongdoings of the past and festering in anger and malice towards those who commit them can keep us from enjoying the present and living with hope for the future. Indeed, we greatly limit ourselves by clinging to our past misfortunes. We can’t see all the joys of the present nor can we work towards the joys of the future. We’re stuck in the pains of the past when we choose not to forgive. Some people understand this…far too many people don’t.
Forgiveness is important, if not for those who hurt us then at least for ourselves. Last week we explored the importance of persistence and our willingness to get back up when life seems to knock us down. We live in a sinful world. We can’t avoid the sins of others let alone the sins of ourselves. We are simply beset by sin in this world. Our ability to persist through the sins of this world relies heavily on our ability to forgive. We need to forgive ourselves and others lest we become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of sin in this world. It is through forgiveness that we allow love back into our broken relationships. And love, well, love is the strongest force this world! Love is infinitely stronger than sin and death. Love holds everything together. Forgiveness brings love back into situations and relationships that have been beset by sin.
So it’s no wonder that God would be so big on forgiveness. It is through forgiveness that we get to experience the deep and abiding love that God has for each of us. Perhaps you’ve heard me see it before but…God loves us! God loves each of us so very much! God wants nothing more than to be in relationship with each of us! And God wants us to be in loving relationship with each other too! It grieves God when we sin against each other. When we sin against each other, God wants us to forgive each other and rebuild the broken relationship. Just as we aren’t supposed to fixate on the wrongdoings of the past, we aren’t supposed to perpetuate broken relationships with each other. As Pastor Fitzgerald so wisely stated earlier, we are to forgive as we have been forgiven. God forgives us our sins, no matter how grievous they are, so that He can simply get back to loving us. That’s all that God wants to do—love us. Remember…God loves us!
This is no better illustrated than in our 1st reading from Samuel. Recall the back story that led up to where our passage begins. David was a faithful servant of our Lord but he was also a sinful man. He lusted over Bathsheba while she was bathing on the roof of a nearby home. His lust was so all-consuming that he had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, sent to the frontlines of his battling army. Naturally, Uriah is killed and David goes on to take Bathsheba to be his own wife as we heard at the start of our passage. God doesn’t let David’s sin go unnoticed and sends the prophet Nathan to let David know as such. Woefully confessing to his sin, David is spared his life but the child he has with Bathsheba is killed. Not absolute forgiveness on God’s behalf but forgiveness nonetheless. God forgives David’s sin enough to stay in relationship with him but not enough so that he doesn’t suffer any consequences. Indeed, David’s broken relationships with those around him only got more broken with the death of the child. But God forgives. God stays in loving relationship with His faithful servant.
With such a painful past, it’s only fitting that David would sing the words in today’s psalm. As he and we sang, “How blest are those who’ve been forgiven, who know the Lord will always listen. Be glad and trust the Lord. Steadfast love surrounds you.” David experienced firsthand the power of God’s forgiveness. David knew what it felt like to be condemned for his sinful actions and yet shown undeserved mercy and grace by his condemner. It is feeling of great freedom, of great joy, of great gratitude. Forgiveness is just as powerful for the forgiven as it is for the forgiving.
Just ask the woman who kissed and anointed Jesus’ feet in today’s gospel passage from Luke. Unlike the Pharisees around her, she was a woman who was fully aware of her sins and her need for God’s forgiveness. She knew she was unworthy to receive God’s grace and mercy. Yet she showed Jesus unabashed humility and servitude. Of course Jesus would reward her, not only for her hospitable acts but also for her contrite heart. The woman came to Jesus knowing full well she was unworthy of his grace, something the Pharisees never believed, and because of it she received full forgiveness, something the Pharisees never received.
Hearing these stories of accidental car wrecks, domestic violence, paralyzing carts, lustful treachery, and prideful arrogance, we can’t help but wonder if there is any sin unworthy of God’s forgiveness. Jesus tells us in other verses that the one forgivable sin is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. We have to keep in mind this was in response to a specific incident of people around Jesus claiming he was demon-possessed instead of Spirit-filled. The sin at the core of such accusation is disbelief. When we fail to believe in Jesus, when we fail to have faith in the Holy Spirit, that is the only truly unforgiveable sin. This is good news for us who live in a sinful world. Nothing we do in this world is unforgiveable by God as long as we believe in God’s saving grace and mercy.
We live in a sinful world. Sometimes our sins hurt others and sometimes the sins of others hurt us. Forgiveness is important for maintaining loving relationships with each other amidst all of our sin. Believe it or not, we need each other! We need loving relationships with each other! God is pleased when we are in such relationships with each other. God wants to be in loving relationship with each of us. Let us work at maintaining forgiving hearts with each other. Nothing we do to each other is unforgiveable. And let us be glad that, aside from disbelief, God’s grace extends to all our sins and of His forgiveness there is…no sin unworthy.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.