In the Gospel story of the pardoning of the sinful woman Luke presents two different reactions to the ministry of Jesus. A Pharisee, suspecting Jesus to be a prophet, invites Jesus to a festive banquet in his house, but the Pharisee’s self-righteousness leads to little forgiveness by God and consequently little love shown toward Jesus. The sinful woman, on the other hand, manifests a faith in God that has led her to seek forgiveness for her sins, and because so much was forgiven, she now overwhelms Jesus with her display of love. The whole episode is a powerful lesson on the relation between forgiveness and love.
Writing about evangelization, Pope St. Paul VI said that “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and even if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. The witness of the woman in this Gospel story makes her a powerful evangelist. Her actions speak – even though she says no words at all! In lovingly wiping and anointing the feet of Jesus, she bears witness to a love which has changed her and which changes the world.
The evangelist dedicates his or her life to the single-hearted spreading of the Gospel. Having encountered transformative power in the love of Jesus himself, St. Paul knew that this gift had to be shared with others. Today we hear him encouraging Timothy to join him in the task. The instructions he provides for Timothy are not concerned with the content of his teaching. They concern his witness. Paul tells Timothy to set an example and to attend to yourself. Like the woman in the Gospel, St. Paul wants Timothy to remember the great love he has received in Christ, and live out that love in a way that will reflect the truth. Only in this way will Timothy be an effective evangelist.
We also celebrate a memorial today for St. Cornelius, a pope who was exiled because of his insistence that apostate Christians could be forgiven and could regain entrance to the Church. He was supported in his fight by St. Cyprian, a bishop of Carthage. Just as Simon the Pharisee was not able to move toward forgiving the woman in the Gospel, Novatian, an anti-pope and heretic, who did not accept that sinners who left the Church could be forgiven.
The Paschal Mystery is all about God’s mercy and forgiveness for the sinner. But for the mercy of God, we would never have come to know Jesus in our lives.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator