Today’s Scriptures speak to us all about our need for a Savior. If we didn’t need a Savior, this would be a pretty strange gathering. Why bother getting out of bed and dragging ourselves here? Even good King David knew that he needed a Savior and he, very appropriately, helps us to pray in today’s Psalm response: “Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.”
At the bottom of this need for a Savior is the fact that we are all sinners, every one of us. We may not have done anything notorious, but we have to know that we all fall short of God’s expectations of us – and not just sometimes, but way more often than we’d like to count. I know that’s not easy to hear, but it’s also not easy to argue against, is it? It’s not popular to talk about sin even from the pulpit these days, because in our society everything is someone else’s fault. In days gone by, if a child misbehaved in school, woe to him when he got home. Today, if a child misbehaves in school, woe to the teacher when the parents find out the child has been held accountable. If we spill coffee on ourselves and it burns us, we sue the purveyor who sold it to us. Personal responsibility is not something we are ready to accept, let alone teach to our children. Lord, forgive the wrong we have done indeed!
And so all of us sinners who are in great need of a Savior have gathered here for this weekend Liturgy. What we hear from today’s Scriptures is all about sin. First, sin has consequences. Second, repentance is crucial. Third, forgiveness is freely given. And finally, reconciliation brings joy.
Sin has consequences. This was what King David heard in today’s first reading. You may know the story. While the war was raging and his army was fighting for his own survival, David looked out and saw the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who was very appealing to him. He sent for her, and had his way with her. In the society of that day, such an act was an offense primarily against the woman’s husband, because it ended his blood line. When that happened, the man’s property would not be passed on to his heirs after death, and would instead be given to the state. King David was the state, so David’s taking of Uriah’s wife also meant that he stole his inheritance. And just to make the deed complete, he arranged for Uriah to be “accidentally” killed in battle. This was not just a minor sin or a tiny indiscretion. What God says to David in today’s first reading is that yes, his sin is forgiven because God is mercy. But, because of his wrong choices, David has unleashed a chain of events that will result in violence being part of his family’s inheritance forever. That is not punishment for his sin, but rather the consequence of it. Even when our sins have been forgiven, we often unleash consequences we could not have foreseen. That’s how insidious and destructive sin can be, and that is why there is no such thing as a victimless or private sin in which no one else is affected.
Repentance is crucial. We see that move to repentance in King David’s behavior today. When confronted by God, David is quick to repent: “I have sinned against the LORD,” David says. And this is the crucial step. God is always ready to forgive, but we have to recognize that we need to be forgiven. We have to know that we need a Savior. I think we struggle with this. I remember the first Ash Wednesday after the new Roman Missal came out, and the words were changed for the giving of ashes. A couple of people were really angry with me for saying “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” I am so aware of my own need for repentance that I didn’t really know what to say to them. God’s forgiveness takes two: God to offer it, and us to receive it. That’s why the Sacrament of Penance is so important. You have to get to confession at least once a year, and I say it should be more like once a month. We should always put ourselves in the presence of God’s mercy. If you want God’s grace, all you have to do is to make a move to receive it. We all need a Savior, and we are all promised one if we will just ask for it.
Forgiveness is freely given. God’s response to David didn’t even take a minute. As soon as he says that he had sinned against the Lord, God’s response comes through Nathan the prophet, loud and clear: “The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.” And notice, please, that the Lord doesn’t say, “OK, I forgive you,” as in “now that you’ve said ‘I’m sorry’ I will forgive you.” No. The message is that David’s sin has been forgiven; that is, the forgiveness has already happened. It is not necessary that we repent, or do anything, in order that we be forgiven. But it is crucial that we repent in order to receive that forgiveness and grace that is given to us freely, without a moment’s hesitation, by our God who is at his core, forgiveness and grace. We should not, of course, commit the further sin of presumption by assuming that that it does not matter what we do because we are always forgiven. But above all, we should not deprive ourselves of the grace of forgiveness by choosing not to confess and repent and receive what is offered to us.
Reconciliation brings joy. I think what is so important in today’s Gospel is for us to see how great is the joy that comes from sin forgiven and mercy received. The unnamed “sinful woman” is not bathing and anointing the Lord’s feet so that he will then forgive her sins. She is bathing and anointing him because she is overjoyed that her many sins have been forgiven. The little parable Jesus tells to Simon the Pharisee makes that clear: the one who was forgiven the greater debt loves more. He loves not to have his debt forgiven, but instead he loves because the debt has already been canceled. And so we too come together with joy this day because the debt of our sin has been erased. We pour out our time, talent, and treasure, and especially our own lives, on this altar of sacrifice, because our sins have been forgiven and the debt has already been paid by our Savior who stretches out his arms on the cross so that we might have salvation and might be reconciled with our God who created us for himself. Today in that silent time after Communion, we should all be filled with joy because of the great forgiveness that is ours when we sinful people realize that we need a Savior and turn to find his arms already open to us. What other response is there to that grace but tears of joy?
It might not be popular to talk about sin these days but, brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s the only reason we’re here together this day. If we don’t need a Savior, then we don’t need to waste an hour in Church, do we? But the truth is we are a sinful people, a people in need of a Savior, who gather together to sing the words of King David, “Lord forgive the wrong I have done.” In our gathering we can cry out in tears of joy for forgiveness freely given and mercy abundantly bestowed. “Blessed” – indeed happy – “is the one whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered.”