Fr. David’s homily June 12, 2016.
Homily on left – Gospel reading on right.
Years ago, in another place, a young couple came to see me. It was a difficult for them. The girl was pregnant. For a series of reasons, marriage was out of the question, as was abortion. The pregnancy would, they said, irrevocably, disrupt their lives; not to even mention the life of the child who would be born. It was doing that already as they had sat with both their parents, all of them understanding and supportive. Being sensitive people, they needed no reminder that they had been irresponsible. They made no attempts to rationalize, to offer excuses, or to escape blame and responsibility. They recognized that they had sinned. They recognized that they had helped create a situation that was irrevocable, a certain ease and innocence had been destroyed, some things would never be quite the same again. They ended their confession on a note of sadness: “There is no way we’ll ever live normally,” said the young man, “even God can’t unscramble an egg!”
What this young couple was saying was that, for them, there would always be a skeleton in the closet. Ordinary life would, in its own way, limp along, but they would remain forever marked by this mistake. I thought to myself: “How can I help them to see that that’s not true. Nothing is forever except God’s love.”
Today we live in a world and a church in which this kind of brokenness and attitude are becoming more the rule than the exception. For more and more people there is a major something to live beyond, some skeleton in the closet: a broken marriage, an abortion, a religious commitment that didn’t work out, a pregnancy outside marriage, a betrayed trust, a broken relationship, a soured affair, a serious mistake, a searing regret, sometimes with a sense of sin, most often without it. Sadly, for many, this comes, as it did for this couple, joined with a hopelessness, a sense that something irrevocable has happened. What we need today, in the church, perhaps more than anything else, is a theology of brokenness that relates failure and sin seriously enough to redemption. Too often, what is taught as redemption is little more than the strict law of karma: one chance per lifetime, salvation through getting it right, happiness and innocence only when there is nothing to be forgiven. We have too much fear of God. Ultimately, we look at the scrambled egg, at our own mistakes and sins, and believe that the loss of a certain grace is irrevocable, that a mistake hangs us. Basically, we do not believe that there is a second chance, let alone 70 x 7 chances, that can be just as life-giving as the first one.
I was raised in a Catholicism which was deeply moral. Sin was everywhere. I remember having to go to Confession every week. On most moral issues, brutally uncompromising, the slightest infraction required Confession. I don’t want to sell that short. It was another era. In fact, I feel pain for so many today that are being raised in a moral relativism which excuses too much and challenges too little. However, if the Catholicism that I was raised in had a fault, and it most certainly did, it was precisely that it did not allow for mistakes. It demanded that you get it right. There was supposed to be no need for a second chance. If you made a mistake, you lived with it and, like the woman in the gospel, the Pharisees said: “If only he knew what kind of woman this was.” Sure. She was broken. Where have you been to help her deal with her brokenness?
A permanent stigmatization is not Christianity. It becomes a mark like Hester Prynne was forced to wear: a scarlet “A”? That’s not the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. I have seen that mark on all kinds of people: divorcees, ex-priests, ex-religious, people who have had abortions, married people who have had affairs, people who have had children outside of marriage, parents who have made serious mistakes raising their children, and countless others who have made serious mistakes. It’s wrong! We need a theology of brokenness.
God lets us live
We need a theology which teaches us that even though God cannot unscramble an egg, God’s grace lets us live happily and with renewed innocence far beyond any egg we might have scrambled. We need a theology that teaches us that God does not just give us one chance, but that every time we close a door, God opens another one for us. We need a theology that challenges us to take sin seriously, but which tells us that when we do sin, when we do make mistakes, we are given the chance to take our place among the broken, among those whose lives are not perfect, the loved sinners, those for whom Christ came. Quite frankly, these are my people. I am one of them.
We need a theology which tells us that a second, third, fourth, and fifth chance are just as valid as the first one. We need a theology that tells us that mistakes are not forever, that they are not even for a lifetime, that time and grace wash clean, that nothing is irrevocable. Finally, we need a theology which teaches us that God loves us as sinners and that the task of Christianity is not to teach us how to live, but to teach us how to live again…and again…and again.
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 because she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is 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.”