“Your Faith Has Saved You”
In this beautiful homily for 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Father Hanly shows us that what is important is to give your life in faith and trust and love to God.
Readings for Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
- First Reading: Second Samuel 12:7-10, 13
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 32:1-2, 5, 7, 11
- Second Reading: Galatians 2:16, 19-21
- Gospel: Luke 7:36-8:3 or 7:36-50
This is one of the most quoted excerpts from the four Gospels. And it’s written by the only one in the whole Bible who is not Jewish, who wrote this Scripture book, and that of course is Saint Luke.
This Bible is a lot more than what is said, and I hope that I can help you to feel it the way Luke felt it. Because there are three people in this story.
There is the Pharisee.
Now we know the Pharisees were more holy than God Himself. They kept each jot and tittle of the Law. But most of all, the reason they did it was because they loved the Law. They loved the Law; they loved the fact that God Himself gave them the Law. And the Law was sacred, not just the Torah, but the whole Old Testament – the Law and the Prophets.
And they were scandalised and they would defend this Law with their very lives — which they did when the enemy came two generations before from the south and disgraced the temple. At that time, they laid their lives down by the hundreds and thousands to save the temple.
And so, we mustn’t be too harsh on the Pharisees. It is true Jesus has difficulties with them and you will find out when we get a little longer in this.
The second person is the woman.
She is called, in Luke, a sinner. Now, we use the term, we’re all sinners, every one of us a sinner. But in those days, they meant a public sinner, someone who was thrown out of the synagogue and not to be associated with because of her sin. We do not know what that sin was, but we do know from Luke that she was really an outcast in society. And so, she is the one who comes.
There, of course, is Jesus.
Jesus at this period of time is a controversial figure. The Pharisees, more and more, alienate themselves from him. The things he says seem to go against the Law of Moses, and the Law is what they defend to the death.
I’ll read you now a little bit of the dialogue when you understand a little bit of the three personalities.
A Pharisee invited Jesus…
That’s the first question: how in God’s name would an enemy of Jesus invite him to dinner?
And so, we learn right away that there were many Pharisees who wondered about this man who spoke so wonderfully of the Old Testament, who spoke so wonderfully of the Law and the Prophets. And they wondered about him and yet he seemed in a way to be separate from them.
So he invites him. But he does not pay him the high respect that is due to an official, a public official or someone that the host wants to sing aloud as being more important than himself. And that, of course, is to wash his feet, to anoint him with oil when he comes in to the table. But Jesus doesn’t take this as a personal insult because it is not meant to be.
And so it is that he sits down at table.
Now when they sit down at table, of course, they’re really laying down because the Roman custom, which was common in those days, was that you came and you laid on a couch and the table was very low. And so, you ate facing your host and your feet were out in the other direction.
This is very important to understand how they sat down. Of course, the host was at the centre and Jesus is close by to him, probably just a little bit to the side of him.
And then the woman finds it quite easy to enter the house because, number one is, she really wasn’t coming to confess her sins to Jesus.
She heard that Jesus was in the house of the Pharisee. And she was a woman of that village, that town. And she was a woman of very questionable representation.
But, apparently, she knew Jesus.
And how would she know Jesus?
Because he had forgiven her at another place in another setting. And what she was coming with the alabaster jar of ointment was to express her gratitude – how wonderful to be received back by Jesus.
But at the same time, she …
You know we are very hard to forgive. We forgive but we do not forget the people we forgive, and very often we carry a certain kind of feeling among us so that they are not really acceptable in our own homes or places like that.
And so you see this is getting to be a little bit more complicated. But it’s very simple.
She comes in and she stays in the back because that’s where Jesus’ feet are.
And she doesn’t say anything, she’s silent in this whole episode.
But what she does do is she opens the little flask and pours this expensive ointment on the feet of Jesus. And she weeps because she’s so grateful to this man for saving her life. And she not only weeps, but she doesn’t bring a cloth to wipe his feet, she wipes his feet with her hair.
And we think of Saint Paul saying about the women of those days, that they should cover their hair in church because the hair is a woman’s great gift. The hair is something very special. It’s a woman’s proud, honorary piece of her whole self.
And now we go back to the Pharisee.
The Pharisee sees this. And he knows her reputation. But he doesn’t get angry with Jesus and say, “How could you bring this woman into here, this very questionable lady?”
He says, in his heart, this man must know what kind of a reputation this woman has, and why does he allow this?
And he’s truly puzzled because, for a Pharisee, a woman of questionable reputation, not allowed to enter the temple, a public sinner, is certainly not to be entertained by one of the leading Pharisees of the village in which they are. And he doesn’t say anything.
But Jesus gives him a chance and he says to him, “Simon…”
Simon: this Pharisee is not just a Pharisee, he has a name, he has a personality and Jesus knows his name. And the rule is, in the Gospels when you find a name like Simon of Cyrene and this Simon, it’s a sign that by the time of the writing he’s a member of the Christian community.
So, all of a sudden, you begin to feel a little bit sympathetic with this Pharisee who takes a very questionable prophet into his home even though he knows that, among his own group, he will be vilified and criticised.
And Jesus says to him, he says, “Simon,” with great kindness, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
And Simon says, “Yes, Rabbi.” Rabbi is a title of respect. “Yes, Lord. Yes, Rabbi.”
And then he tells him the story. He says, “If a man had two debtors, and one owed him a vast amount of money and the other one just a small amount of money, and the debtor forgave both of them, which one would love him more?”
“Why,” Simon said, “I think it would probably be the one who owed him the most.”
And Jesus says, “You have answered correctly.”
And then there’s a very interesting sentence in here. Remember they’re sitting down, and the woman is in the back, and Jesus, instead of saying this to Simon, now picture this, instead of saying these words to Simon, the gospel says, he turned and he looked at the woman.
So now you have Jesus looking at the woman and Simon listening and this is what Jesus says:
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.”
He is saying this to the woman and he’s saying it to Simon as they both look upon this woman.
“But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
He’s reminding her that it is not because she is repentant. It is because of God’s gracious love for her and this beautiful gesture that God had always forgiven her and now she knows it from the lips of someone she has come now to know as the Son of God.
And then he says to the woman this phrase,
“Your faith has saved you.”
“Your faith has healed you. Your faith has cured you.”
Because probably she was going down a road that would only end in desperation and despair. But Jesus, seeing her, called her to him and she herself gave her whole heart and her whole soul into his hands.
And it is that what makes her so important, not because she’s sorry for her sins but because she gives her life in faith and trust and love and expresses it in such a delicate and wonderful way to Jesus who has come to forgive all of us, all of us, our sins. Because only God, as they say, only God can forgive sins. And Jesus is His Son.
The last word on this, of course, is you’re supposed to begin to look a little different at the Pharisee.
Remember, the Pharisees were defending what they felt was vital and true and passed down for centuries: the holiness of the law.
And Jesus was telling, in this story and with this woman, that you can believe in the whole law, keep the whole law, but you have to have love.
And if you loved, then the law would be fulfilled in your own heart.