Simon the Pharisee had committed a grave error in hospitality, and a serious error in judgment. In those days, when a guest came to your home, you made sure to provide water for him or her to wash their feet, because the journey on foot was often long and hot and dirty, and it was pretty much always made on foot. But Simon had done no such thing for Jesus.
Simon’s intentions were not hospitable; rather he intended to confront Jesus on some minutiae of the Law so as to validate his opinion that Jesus was a charlatan. He judged the woman to be a sinner, and reckoned Jesus guilty of sin by association. But Jesus is about forgiveness. He didn’t care about the woman’s past; he just knew that, presently, she had need of mercy. Her act of love and hospitality, her posture of humility, her sorrow for her sin, all of these made it possible for Jesus to heal her.
But the one who doesn’t think he is in need of healing can never be healed.
It’s quite well known that we men hate to stop and ask for directions. Actually, I am glad I have a GPS in my car, because now I never have to ask for directions any more! But finding the right way to go is important. If you don’t have directions, you’ll never make it on vacation, or you’ll never get to that important appointment in time. It’s so important for us to know where we’re going.
That’s why today’s interaction between God and Abram had to be tough for him. God makes him quite a promise, and sends him out to claim the lands he had in store for him and his descendants. But Abram clearly didn’t know what he’d encounter along the way or even where he was finally going to end up. Yet, Abram’s faith was sure: he goes right through the land of the dreaded Canaanites, and builds an altar to God there.
The direction Jesus gives to his disciples – and to us – today is more spiritual in nature. In order to be close to God, we have to be more like God. And so we are to stop judging, lest we be judged. Spending our time judging others leaves that wooden beam in our eyes, which hinders us from seeing where we are going. If we want to get to heaven one day, we have to pull that wooden beam out of our eyes, and walk with our brothers and sisters in faith.
Just like Abram, we disciples are being led by God without a clear roadmap. Those of us who sweat details like that could be a little uncomfortable. But trusting in God, and walking with our brothers and sisters, we will come to our final destination in the safe and loving hands of our God.
All this talk of beatings aside, I think the scariest words in today’s Gospel come right at the end of the reading: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” Think about how much we all have. Even in a tough economy, we have much more than most people in the world. That’s a wonderful blessing, but it does mean that so much will be demanded of us. Demanded. But then it can be demanded, because the blessings have been so freely given. We may feel inadequate to the task, we may shrink before the demands. But we have no reason to do so, because, as the Psalmist tells us, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
Today’s Gospel is perhaps a bit more vivid for me this week, because on Sunday I spent time weeding the side yard at my mother’s house. It’s not a task I really look forward to, but it is kind of good in that when you finish a job like that, you can look at it and see something good happened. There’s a sense of accomplishment. When Father John and Father Jim and I had lunch yesterday, we talked about what we did over the weekend. Father Jim joked that the difference between a weed and a plant was where it was growing.
That’s the kind of question the disciples had for Jesus today. Jesus had just told them several parables about the kingdom of God, and this one didn’t get read in the Gospels the last few days. So we have the explanation, but not the parable. You can check it out in the 13th chapter of Matthew. The story basically went that the landowner sowed good seed in the field, but when it started to grow, weeds came up too. His laborers asked him about it and he said, “An enemy has done this.” So they wanted to pull up the weeds, but the master said to let them grow together until harvest time, lest in pulling them up they also accidentally pull up the good plants. They could then be pulled up and burnt at harvest time.
Now I think a good gardener might quibble with the analogy. But that’s not the point. The point is good news, and the good news is this: however much we may resemble the weeds during our life, Jesus gives us the time to grow into much lovelier plants during our lives. He doesn’t blot us out of the book of life for one transgression. But the warning is that we only have so much time until the harvest. If we are going to turn to the God who sowed us and provide good fruit, we need to do it now. If we wait until the harvest, it may well be too late. Our God gives us the freedom to choose to be the good seeds in the field of the world, blessed are we who choose to grow that way.
Do you ever wonder if it could be said of our nation, “This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people?” The scriptures today make it clear that it is by following the commandments of the Lord that a nation will be judged as wise and intelligent. Part of that is because great laws are common sense: they are part of the social contract by which we must live if our society is to continue. So we can’t condone murder, theft, or anarchy, or there won’t be a society to live in, much less a society to be judged as wise and intelligent.
But today’s scriptures seem to require more than just mere observance of the social contract. Following the Lord’s laws requires that we care for the most vulnerable among us, including the unborn, the poor, the marginalized, the stranger, the widowed, and all those who are forgotten. We must care for them, because God certainly cares for them, and he will judge us as a nation on how we have observed these commandments.
Even laws do not free the faithful from observance of the commandments. One cannot break a commandment to avoid breaking a law. And one clearly cannot teach others to break the commandments for any reason. The Divine Law is the foundation for all other law, and is the basis of our judgment. Today’s readings are clear: if we are to be judged wise and intelligent, if we are to inherit everlasting life, we must live the Lord’s commandments and teach others to do the same.