11 Ordinary C – June 13, 2010 – Exuberant Faith and Good Work
2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13, Psalm 32: 1-2, 5,7,11, Galatians 2:16, 19-21, Luke 7:36-8:3
Not long ago going to Mass every Sunday, along with following a few other rules, was considered essential if you wanted to get to heaven. Today, one wonders if anybody worries about missing Mass on Sunday. Many believe following every rule is not as important as living good lives. So what does someone have to do to be assured they are justified in the eyes of God? Today’s scriptures address what is called the “justification debate.”  It’s not exactly something that keeps us up at night.
Let’s go right to the gospel. Here we have Simon a Pharisee who proudly welcomes Jesus to his house but does not offer any customary hospitality. Then there is the nameless woman (it was not Mary Magdalen) known for her sinful lifestyle. She crashes the party and not only boldly washes Jesus’s feet (a sign of hospitality), she kisses his feet (a sign of gratitude for pardon).  Jesus completes the scene. He accepts the woman and says to her, “Your faith has saved you.”
So, was the woman saved because she washed Jesus’s feet or because Jesus loved her so much he forgave her?  Are we saved because we do good work or because of the unlimited love God has for us? Let’s look at the other scriptures.
The first reading is an examination of conscience of sorts. David, who was chosen to be the leader of Israel and Judah, was really a bad guy. He murdered people; he was a womanizer. He confessed his wrongdoings and God named him King. This story suggests to us that being on the good side of God meant keeping the laws and asking forgiveness when ignoring the laws.
Fast forward to the new testament and we find Paul in the Roman province Galatia (near modern day Ankara, capital of Turkey). He’s telling the people that they are justified not by works of the law but by faith in Christ. The expression “works of the law” is a reference to ritual laws like circumcision and diets. In the Letter of James (2:24) we find a counterpoint … that we are justified by good works (acts of charity) and not faith alone.  So which it?
To find the answer we have to back up. God created the universe, everyone and everything in it. God expected people to be good. They weren’t. We are not. Abraham is asked by God to rally the people of Israel to spread God’s love to all nations. In this sense God was counting on humans to make the world justified. That didn’t work. It would fall upon the shoulders of a loyal Israelite to finish the job. Jesus is sent to soak up all the imperfections of humanity. When alive he offered people an alternative way of living. His death symbolized the destruction of all imperfections. His post resurrection appearances and the power of the spirit persuaded people to be faithful in carrying out his mission.
The woman featured in the story expressed her gratitude and her faith in Jesus by carrying out an exuberant act of hospitality. Apparently Jesus also cured the other women listed at the end of the story. Although Luke does not call them such these women seem to be disciples of Jesus who supported him in his work. Clearly although women were marginalized in society in his time Jesus included them in his ministry.
These biblical texts suggest to us that salvation consists not only having faith in God but also responding to that gift like the woman in the gospel did. How are we changing as we experience God’s love?  The woman was transformed. How are we transformed? What’s new in our lives because of the love of God? With respect for other Christians this is what we Catholics believe. To be justified in God begins with faith in Christ. However, if we do not show thanks with good work, like the woman in the story did, our faith is dead (James 2:14-16). We grow in faith by the way we live and what we do for others. That’s why God created us, to be good to one another. Neither faith alone or acts of charity alone will save us.
We may not have an answer for why more Catholics don’t go to church on Sunday. We’re not even sure each one of us here is on the good side of God. What we can hope for is that all of us have faith in God and are doing some sort of good work.
1 John Piper and N.T. Wright, “The Justification Debate: A Primer” in Christianity Today. (Posted 6/26/2009.) http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/june/29.34.html
2 Newsom C. & Ringe S. The Woman’s Bible Commentary (London: John Knox Press, 1992, pp. 285-288.
3 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition) pp. 476-478.
4 See Catholic Catechism, Para. 1963, and Council of Trent, Canons 9, 14, 20.
5 Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 73-77