Homily for 11th Sunday of Year 2007

In every community there is the reality of sin. We are only too aware of it. But this does not mean we stop coming together to celebrate the Eucharist. Sin amongst Christians is a scandal to outsiders. Yet our need is the reason we come. We come in gratitude because we are forgiven. Thus it was the reason why the woman came into the meal where Jesus was eating with a Pharisee and poured out her gratitude to Jesus.

It needs to be said that this unnamed woman is not Mary Magdalene as has often been assumed. Mary Magdalene is named in the next paragraph as one of those women who provided for Jesus on his travels. She had been freed from seven demons we are told. There is no indication that these two are the same person. Because they have been seen as the same person it has often been assumed that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. The woman in the story may have been, she was a known sinner. But it is not said. Mary's demons are more likely to have been a reference to mental illness than sexual sins. I have met people who could easily be described as being possessed by demons who were indeed mentally ill. Jesus cured Mary Magdalene of her illness. Maybe Luke does not name the woman out of simple sensitivity to her.

The Christians are often criticised because they fails to live up to what they preach. We need to remember that the Church is meant especially for those whose lives are a mess! "I came to call sinners to repentance not the virtuous" (Luke 5:32).

In today's Gospel reading Jesus is seen very clearly as a friend of sinners. Unlike the Pharisee who would shun the woman. For him Jesus cannot be a prophet because he does not seem to know of the woman's reputation. If so he too would not have anything to do with her. This was a reasonable stance to take for a Pharisee who was anxious to keep the Law of Moses.

There seems to have been a mutual respect between Jesus and many of the Pharisees. They invited him to meals on several occasions. Jesus does not really criticise the Pharisees for not welcoming the woman rather he leads him to a different understanding of what God wants. God wants the sinner to live not die.

David was the best of ancient Israel's kings. But even he was far from perfect. He was an adulterer and a murderer. The first reading tells of the response of David to the realisation that he was a sinner. It is worth repeating the parable the prophet Nathan told David which brought him to repentance. Just as Jesus told a parable to the Pharisee so Nathan tells this beautiful story:

"But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveller to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him." Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity" (2 Sam 12:1-6) .

Any other king at that time could take any woman he liked without fear. And any prophet who dared to challenge his right to do so would quickly lose his head. King David is not above the Law of Moses. Thus is enshrined one of the key components of our Judeo-Christian civilization.

Like David, like Paul who persecuted the Christians, and like the woman in the Gospel we are all capable of sin. We recognise that an know that we can be forgiven. We cannot undo the past but we can work to make up for the harm we have caused.

The gratitude of the woman is a concrete example of the wonderful reality of salvation that Paul speaks of in Galatians. "For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing" (Galatians 2:16-20). Jesus could do for the woman what the Law in the person of the Pharisee could not: justify her.

So none of us can afford to look down our noses at anyone else or exclude anyone else, even a known sinner. This comes back to what we considered last Sunday about the celebration of the Eucharist. Then we heard how Paul was dealing with divisions within the Church at Corinth. In both Corinth and in the Pharisees Jesus is present at a meal. We have to be a community that loves one another in order to be a Eucharistic people. Today we see Jesus establishing just that kind of community, that kind of Church, in the house of a Pharisee.

Fr Graham