First Reading Commentary
Anyone who is serious about their spiritual life surely understands the destruction caused by sin. The images can be haunting. Sin is never more destructive, though, than when it crosses the line of venial and enters into mortal and builds a wall of separation between a soul and God. A daily examination of conscience and perhaps having a personal Confessor will help to identify the troublesome spots: i.e., the sins of constant repetition. Examining the personal sins of daily life can plague the heart and mind if it is not balanced by a daily recollection of the good things God does, seemingly irrespective of personal failures. The fast pace of life quite often misses God passing by to bless a circumstance or situation.
While it might be better for our soul to have a prophetic Nathan drop by and remind us of the good that God has done in our lives, as well as point out where we have failed Him; or have a Confessor like Padre Pio kick us out of the confessional for deliberately failing to confess certain sins, since these scenarios are a long shot, we have to take responsibility for the condition of our soul by a personal mandate to strengthen our relationship with God. Sure, it would be embarrassing to be told by a prophet where we have failed God or to be jettisoned from the confessional by a supernaturally gifted priest; but the real shame lies in the inability to be honest with ourselves. An honest relationship with God will have us admit with David: “I have sinned against the Lord” and embracing the Catholic teaching of Reconciliation assures that the Lord on His part has forgiven our sins.
A prophetic view of this Reading previews the love of God for His people and the humility of Christ. The Almighty and all-powerful God would clothe Himself in flesh and dwell among sinful humanity; and He would do so through the lineage of David, a lineage of murder and adultery, placing Himself in the all too familiar role of being a sign of contradiction. And yet the prophetic voice speaking to David saying: “The Lord on His part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die” foretells a future of mercy and the unworthy opportunity to escape eternal death because of Christ's Sacrifice. This loving act of Jesus delineates both the justice of God and the mercy of God.
Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul addresses this letter chiefly to Jewish Galatians who remained faithful to the old law. Saint Jerome has commented that by the evangelical law of Christ we are now dead to the ancient law and its ceremonies. As Saint Paul points out, if justification and salvation could be gained through the works of the law, then Christ died in vain and it was unnecessary for Him to become our Redeemer.
Saint Paul is expressing a kind of inner metamorphism: The law which he was faithfully attached to has died in him. Now he is so fully united to Christ and His Cross that he writes: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” This is a mystical death which comes through faith and baptism. Now that Paul speaks out against the ancient law, it must be understood that he is speaking about its ceremonial aspects and not its moral content.
Justification has only one Source which are the graces obtained for us by Jesus Christ. Saint Paul's words in this Reading presents to us a mystical smorgasbord because they suggest that faithful Christians walk in the Spirit and if we dare be so bold, can say that we are in a sense another Christ by virtue of our union with Him and are receptacles of His graces; and certainly in the ordained priesthood this is even more profoundly true as priests are in Persona Christi as it is Christ Himself Who is present to His Church as the Shepherd of the flock, the Teacher of Truth and the High Priest of the redemptive Sacrifice (cf.
"Who is this Who even forgives sins?" This particular verse, one could say from a Catholic or Orthodox perspective, is a bit prophetic. Our separated brethren who do not share our belief in the Sacrament of Reconciliation will often ask how a man [priest] can forgive sins. In Christ are God and Man. In the confessional it is God through man. Our Lord told Saint Faustina: “When you go to Confession, know this, that I Myself am waiting for you in the confessional; I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in the soul.”
There's also an aspect of reverence leaking through in this particular Gospel. Worship, liturgical or personal, demands reverence. Our Lord Himself would seem to suggest this with His string of “you did not – but she has” statements; meaning that the woman in this Gospel has shown her Lord the proper reverence even though it comes into question by the Pharisee. But reverence cannot be exercised merely for reverence sake; it must be motivated by love as is the case with this woman as Jesus points out by saying that “she has shown great love.”
In the biblical days, feet were surely the dirtiest part of the body with only sandals or bare feet to tread through the desert sand. Jesus suggests that water would have been the least that could have been used to bathe His Feet, which the Pharisee failed to do; but the woman goes beyond what would have been sufficient and gives her all by bathing our Lord's Feet with her tears, an acknowledgement of her own unworthiness to approach even His dirt-covered Feet. By kissing His Feet and anointing them, she accepts her own nothingness and submits to the superiority of her Lord and offers thanks for the gift of being permitted to wash His Feet. All this is done not because of some sort of protocol, but rather it is an expression of her love for Jesus.
Metaphorically, this opens up a can of worms when considering our own expressions of worship – how we enter a church, bowing and genuflecting, maintaining a reverent silence before the Tabernacle, attentiveness to the proclamation of the Scriptures, spending a few moments after Mass to offer thanksgiving for the phenomenal gift of the Eucharist, etc. Also, when entering deeper into this particular scene, washing away dirt speaks of Confession and how when partaking of that sacrament we are not only repairing the wounds of the soul but are in a sense washing our dirt off of Jesus which covers His Flesh, thus inhibiting us from kissing His Feet or more comprehensibly, having His Flesh, His Eucharistic presence, pass our lips. It’s something to reflect on when understanding the Church’s teaching that the Blessed Sacrament should not be approached for consumption if there is mortal sin on the soul.
Love is stronger than anything – even death. And He Whom we consume at Mass is Love. Our own preparation for such an unfathomable gift prompts the question that was asked of Peter three times: “Do you love Me?” (cf. John 21:15-17). If Jesus is the One in Whom we show great love, then, as Saint Cyprian puts it, our grief should be proportionate to our sins. How could one not grieve when having offended the Love of his/her life?
In the ongoing daily battle of conversion, if it is a true conversion, pious dispositions like faith, hope, love, charity and sorrow are joined together. This is evident in this Gospel and clears up any controversial theological arguments concerning sins being forgiven because of showing great love versus being saved because of faith. It also shows that faith is not merely an intellectual ascent but rather an expression and attitude of the whole person. Sadly, because of our brokenness, what also cannot be ignored are our own prejudices and jealousies that can surface as portrayed here by the Pharisee. Depending on one's own willingness to love others, the pious expressions of others will either draw out admiration or even a sense of communion with that person or persons - or it will render a first impression laced with jealousy and envy. Sometimes envy and jealousy are rooted in the misjudgment that one lugs around on his/her shoulders sins that are unforgivable. Once again, our Lord said to Saint Faustina: “The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy.”
There are countless writings from the saints on mercy. Here are but a few gems: “Everything that God does is born of His Mercy and His clemency” – Saint John Chrysostom. “God is not the Father of Judgment, but only the Father of Mercy, and punishment comes from our own selves” – Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. And finally, “If God had not created man He would still indeed have been perfect in goodness, but He would not have been actually merciful, since mercy can only be exercised toward the miserable. Our misery is the throne of God's mercy” – Saint Francis de Sales.