Fr. Romeo Ballan
Divine Mercy and female tenderness: these are the two paths for our reflection and for missionary commitment that are found in today’s readings. Two themes that might seem far apart, but which come together in an ideal reality: the face of God, Father and Mother. First of all, the mercy of God, who intervenes to repair the dreadful situation into which King David had fallen (1st. Reading). The prophet Nathan had pointed a finger right into his face: “You are that man!” (v. 7): violent, adulterer, murderer. But no sooner has David recognised his misconduct: “I have sinned against the Lord!” than the prophet assures him of the certainty of the forgiveness of the Lord God, concluding with a proclamation of Hope: “You will not die” (v. 13). It is always like this, because God's last word is not one of punishment or threat, but of pardon and life. The experience of mercy leads one to mission: David, interiorly renewed and happy to have received salvation, promises to teach transgressors the ways of the Lord and to declare his praise (Ps. 51:12-17).
However, it is not David who saves himself by his repentance, but God who gives him the grace to repent and to do good. This is the experience and the insistent teaching of Paul (2nd. Reading) about the salvation that God freely offers us. Having realised that the Law alone is insufficient, Paul is happy to proclaim that now Christ lives in him, like a new life-force (v. 20).
Along the same lines of love and mercy, we have two groups of persons in today’s Gospel: on the one hand Simon and his friends the Pharisees, the 'pure' and cold observers of the Law; on the other, Jesus and the woman who was a public sinner (v. 37). Jesus may have seen or met her several times before, maybe in the house of one of the sinners, where he often went for a meal (Lk. 7:34; 15:12). But the way Jesus looked at her was not the way other men used to: he showed respect, understanding, trust... and she had realised that this "gentleman" did not think of her as an object but as a person. At this point a love contest takes place, in which each acts according to character. The woman, with the female gestures that express what she wants to say: kisses, perfume, letting down her hair, tears... such that those present were disconcerted and scandalised. But Jesus steps in to defend and praise the woman: “Her many sins are forgiven for she showed such great love” (v. 47). Love is the only reality that concerns God. God guards, creates and seeks only love; sins are far below and less important than love. The woman has loved much, but God loves even more, infinitely: He pardons and re-creates. The woman comes out saved, and can go in peace (v. 50).
The contrast between Jesus and Simon, the Pharisee who has invited Him to a meal, has also to do with the theme of acceptance and hospitality. Simon is a victim of those inflexible judgements: he is contemptuous of the woman who touches Jesus: “she is a sinner!”; and is negative towards Jesus’ dignity: “If he were a prophet, he would know who this woman is” (v. 39). Jesus takes the opportunity to speak about three essential values of true hospitality. Simon has overlooked them, the woman has performed them. Water for the feet, to refresh oneself from the journey, but also to place herself at the feet of the guest, in an attitude of humility and listening (v. 44). The kiss of courtesy that goes beyond formality and renews relationships (v. 45). The fragrant ointment that makes the room pleasant for all and introduces to the convivial banquet (v. 46).
The woman has shown great love, therefore her sins are forgiven and she may go in peace (vv. 47-50). Where can she go? To do what? With whom? Having contemplated the love of Christ and discovered the mercy of God, the most fitting response is mission. The following verses open up new and unheard-of horizons: to become part of, to share the missionary venture of Jesus (v. 8:1). Women, too! We find them among the disciples, courageous on the way to Calvary and at the foot of the Cross, missionaries of the Risen Lord on Easter morning, at prayer in the cenacle for the Pentecost… They have their contribution to make: their peculiar sensitivity, their personal wealth, perhaps, but above all their wealth of love (8:2-3). This contribution is specific to the 'female genius', as Pope John Paul II called it (MD 31), without which the works of God and of the Church have something lacking, in both quality and effectiveness. Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed this recently, (*) in a wide-ranging catechesis about “women at the service of the Gospel”.
The Pope’s Words
(*) “Without the generous contribution of many women, the history of Christianity would have developed very differently… The praise refers to women in the course of the Church's history and was expressed on behalf of the entire ecclesial community. Let us also join in this appreciation, thanking the Lord because He leads his Church, generation after generation, availing himself equally of men and women who are able to make their faith and baptism fruitful for the good of the entire ecclesial Body and for the greater glory of God.”
General Audience, Rome, Wednesday, 14.02.2007
In the steps of Missionaries
- 13/6: St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231), a Franciscan priest from Portugal, a miracle worker and effective evangeliser in France and Italy, Doctor of the Church.
- 15/6: Bl. Luigi Maria Palazzolo (Bergamo, 1827-1886), preacher of popular missions, founder of the Poverelle Sisters for education, assistance and mission.
- 16/6: Bl. Maria Teresa Scherer (1825-1888), a Swiss religious, co-foundress of the Sisters of Charity of the Holy Cross who spread very rapidly.
- 17/6: International Day against Desertification and Drought, started by UNO in 1995.
Compiled by Fr. Romeo Ballan, MCCJ - Comboni Missionaries (Verona)
Translated by Fr. Henry Redaelli, MCCJ
Website: www.euntes.net “The Word for Mission”