A Pharisee invited him 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 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.”Luke 7:36-50
Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”Matthew 18:21-35
There is no greater proof that Jesus is the Son of God than his undying love for his enemies. In the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested, Peter’s swift reaction by cutting off the right ear of the high priest’s slave captured the all-too-human impulse toward retaliation. Jesus responded with the strength and power of God: “Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?” (John 18:11)
Strength and power are not ideas the world associates with suffering and torture at the hands of enemies. Mighty and fearful displays, as when the earth swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram seem to demonstrate divine power more convincingly (Numbers 16:31-33).
The Son of God, in assuming flesh, accelerated human spiritual maturity to its zenith. Jesus answered Pilate’s questions with such calm assurance that the latter marveled. When Jesus’ accusers claimed that the Nazarene had to die “because he made himself the Son of God,” Pilate “became afraid” (John 19:7). He was a man immersed in political and earthly affairs. Talk of God or gods belonged to the mystifying realm of religion and the numinous.
Pilate’s first question after that strange accusation was, “Where are you from?” (John 19:9) If Jesus was the Son of God, he would reveal an otherworldly origin. Roman mythology was pervasive enough to make Pilate afraid of spiritual forces beyond human control.
Jesus was silent, so Pilate attempted to assert and define his power over the mysterious defendant.
So Pilate said to him, “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?”John 19:10
If Jesus was a mere man, he would do everything possible to gain release. He would fear Pilate’s power like all the other criminals who have stood trial before him. Jesus’ answer took Pilate by surprise.
“You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”John 19:11
Pilate was stripped of power before this bloodied man wearing a crown of thorns and a purple cloak. Divine tranquility and unshakable dominion emanated from his whole being.
Without comprehending Jesus’ words, Pilate instinctively knew he was innocent and tried to release him. But he was caught between Truth and Politics.
The mob saw they were not getting their way so they played their trump card: Caesar.
“If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”John 19:12
All sense of justice and right drained away at this threat to Pilate’s own position and security. He would not save Jesus at his own expense, despite his wife’s warning (Matthew 27:19).
The whole world sought to preserve its own dominion and power by crucifying “The King of the Jews,” as the Hebrew, Latin, and Greek inscription on the cross mocked. Jesus, who bent low to wash the feet of his disciples the night before, poured forth invincible power and might by his mercy and forgiveness. Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, Jews and Gentiles—the world—came under his merciful wing.
Love is stronger than death, and cannot lay buried in the ground for long. On the third day, Love Incarnate rose from the grave to live and reign forever and ever.
Peter’s question about forgiveness in today’s gospel ( “How many times must I forgive my brother?”) isn’t just his question. He’s asking the question for all of us.
Measure your forgiveness by God’s forgiveness, Jesus says to Peter. It’s beyond measure, and he gives Peter and all of us a story of two servants. Both are involved in a money operation gone wrong. As we know money brings out the worst in people.
There’s a big difference in the money owed. The first servant owes ten thousand talents, a huge sum, and in a unexpected display of mercy, his master forgives the entire debt.
After being forgiven so much, however, that servant sends off to debtors prison another servant who owes him a few denarii, a small sum. The ten thousand talents his master has forgiven him would be worth about 10 million denarii. Big difference!
The story isn’t our only teacher, however. God’s unmeasurable forgiveness finds its greatest expression in the passion and death of Jesus: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” he cries out from the cross. He pleads, not for one, or a few, but for the whole world. Jesus reveals the mercy of God beyond measure.
We’re called to measure our forgiveness of others against his.
Lord, let me hear your call for forgiveness from the cross,
and let me make your call mine.
28th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)
Psalm 119:41-48; Luke 11:37-41
After Jesus had spoken, a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home. He entered and reclined at table to eat. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal. The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil. You fools! Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside? But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.”
In an oft-quoted story, G.K. Chesterton once responded to a query by The Times, “What’s wrong with the world today?” with the short quip, “I am.”
Chesterton’s humor and honesty are a wonderful antidote to the tendency to live on the surface—the outside of the cup and dish. A world dominated by social media and public image makes it all the more difficult to subject the inside to the cleansing light of the Holy Spirit.
“Cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean,” reads Matthew’s Gospel (23:26). Luke’s further recommendation of almsgiving includes forgiveness and prayer for all who have injured us, a sure sign of a clean heart. A pure heart is merciful and kind, but also courageous enough to offer fraternal correction like a true friend.
St. Augustine writes:
“What our Lord says, ‘Give alms, and behold, all things are clean to you,’ applies to all useful acts of mercy. It does not apply just to the one who gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, hospitality to the wayfarer or refuge to the fugitive. It also applies to one who visits the sick and the prisoner, redeems the captive, bears the burdens of the weak, leads the blind, comforts the sorrowful, heals the sick, shows the erring the right way, gives advice to the perplexed, and does whatever is needful for the needy. Not only does this person give alms, but the person who forgives the trespasser also gives alms as well… At the same time he forgives from the heart the sin by which he has been wronged or offended or prays that it be forgiven the offender. Such a person gives alms not only because he forgives and prays but also because he rebukes and administers corrective punishment, since in this he shows mercy…
There are many kinds of alms. When we do them, we are helped in receiving forgiveness of our own sins” (Enchiridion 19.72).
Let your mercy come to me, O LORD,
your salvation according to your promise (Psalm 119:41).
27th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday (Year II)
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come.
Praying “Abba, Father!” to the Almighty God in the intimate manner of beloved children was unprecedented in the history of Israel (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). The distant God of Mount Sinai and the Jerusalem Temple sent his Son into the world to show us his face: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus wanted us to walk in familiarity, trust, and confidence with the Father just as he did throughout his earthy life.
Jesus, who is the Head of his Body, the Church, is completely ad Patrem (“toward the Father”). In his deepest mystery, the Father is the source of his only-begotten Son and our source.
In contemplating the Father as the “source,” “principle,” or “origin” of the Son, all concepts of time and space fall away. His being is not from another but from himself.1 The Son is eternally generated from the Father in an ineffable manner without passion or a co-principle.
Language bumps into a wall on every side as it gropes in the dark for words to describe the Father as an eternal “principle” (Latin Fathers) or “cause” (Greek Fathers) and the Son as eternally begotten or generated. All of our words derive from a world of change and becoming, yet the imperfection of mutability must be denied of God. The Father is the uncaused cause or principle without principle, and yet the Son and the Spirit are mutually eternal and immutable as God.
When we turn to God as Father, we address a divine person who is the source of all persons, being, and the cosmos. “Thy will be done” ultimately returns to the Father through Jesus Christ, a person to person union and communion.
The absolute principle of the universe is neither solitary nor impersonal. Christ’s revelation of the Father is truly unique in unveiling the personal dimension of ultimate reality.
Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”
Like children, we open our empty hands to receive our daily sustenance from God the Father. Forgiveness is constantly pouring out from the Father of mercy. We align ourselves to his merciful heart when we pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Walking in the grace and synergy of the Holy Spirit, may we never swerve from the path of life.
1 St. John of Damascus, The Orthodox Faith, Book I, chapter 8 and St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Prima Pars, question 33, article 1.
19th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
In the biblical world, seven signified perfection and completion, as in the seven days of creation in Genesis. Peter thought he was mirroring the divine mind by proposing to forgive up to seven times. Jesus leapt beyond the seven of paradise to the seventy-seven of the wilderness of Cain and Lamech:
“If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (Genesis 4:24).
The seven of Cain ran in the opposite direction of the original seven, and spiraled down the negative ramp. Jesus’ positive “seventy-seven” covered over a “multitude of sins,” as Peter would later write about divine love (I Peter 4:8). Forgiveness has no limit.
In the parable that followed Peter’s question, a servant who owed his master an exorbitant amount was forgiven the loan by his master. Then strangely, he turned around and imprisoned a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount, exacting full payment. What transpired between the master and the servant earlier? Lack of self-knowledge caused the servant to brush off his debt as of little consequence. Shallowness spawned ingratitude which choked compassion.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’
The unmerciful servant was tying his own noose, failing to realize that he and his brother were one: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Every good or evil done to another is done to ourselves. Otherness and oneness, diversity and unity, are inseparable in a humanity stamped with the Triune image.
The warning, “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart,” shows that we cannot separate our own good from that of our brothers and sisters.
The vehemence with which we insist on our own rights and privileges must be extended to our neighbors to be complete, seven, and seventy-seven.
5th Week of Easter, Saturday
“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.”
From the moment of Christ’s birth, he was already in danger of death as news of an infant king reached the ears of King Herod. St. John the Baptist, by association with him, was killed as his forerunner. During Christ’s public ministry, the religious authorities looked for every opportunity to trip him up and arrest him. Why?
Jesus was a threat to the establishment. He preached a kingdom “not of this world,” forgave sinners, healed on the Sabbath, fed the multitudes, and rebuked hypocrites. His greatest crime was blasphemy: his claim to be the Christ, the Son of God. By calling God his “Father,” he, a mere man, was claiming equality with God.
A strange crime, even in the mind of Pontius Pilate who sought to placate the mob. In the end, out of weakness he had Jesus crucified with a sign that read, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.”
Jesus is rejected “because they do not know the one who sent me.” From the Cross, Jesus asked pardon for the ignorant: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” A centurion and a few companions were converted that very afternoon.
Jesus has given us his example on Calvary to bear under persecution, misunderstanding, and lovelessness with the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts.
The Easter readings tell us Jesus Christ is the light of the world, who shines in our darkness. Mary comes to the tomb while it’s still dark. The dark of evening comes as the disciples hide in the Upper Room. The disciples fish all night, in the dark, and catch nothing. Then, Light comes.
Listen to Maximus of Turin’s reflections on Jesus Christ, “Light from Light.”
“Yes, we have the light of Christ, but it is a light that shines in darkness. The light of Christ is an endless day that knows no night. Christ is this day, says the Apostle; such is the meaning of his words: Night is almost over; day is at hand. He tells us that night is almost over, not that it is about to fall… This is why John the evangelist says: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to overpower it.
And so, my brothers and sisters, each of us ought surely to rejoice on this holy day. Let no one, conscious of his sinfulness, withdraw from our common celebration, nor let anyone be kept away from our public prayer by the burden of his guilt. Sinner he may indeed be, but he must not despair of pardon on this day which is so highly privileged; for if a thief could receive the grace of paradise, how could a Christian be refused forgiveness?”
I like sitting on the porch this morning watching the light come in the morning. It always comes, sometimes muted, sometimes bright and clear, but it always comes.
Today, the feast of St. Athanasius, I was thinking of the Word proclaimed by the heavens and the earth.
“When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,
…O LORD, our Lord,
how awesome is your name through all the earth!”