He is called old soldier and everyone in their neighbourhood seem to have one good thing or the other to say about him. On his face is this constant smile which makes his aging face amiable and innocent. Old soldier had been missing from Masses and everyone wondered what could have gone wrong. His grandson eventually came to tell me when I asked that he had been sick for four days. After the Sunday Mass I went to see him and to administer the sacrament of the sick on him. Old soldier spoke at length about his life and experiences when he was active in the army.
Among all the pockets of stories he told me one struck me so much. According to him, during the military regime in Nigeria it was a common practice to undertake public execution of criminals by firing squad. On one of such occasions, old soldier was included in the list of those who would execute a notorious gang of armed robbers that was terrorizing the country. On the appointed day of their execution,the criminals where gagged and tied to stakes. Old soldier and his mates were ordered to march out, get set and fire at the criminals. All his colleagues obeyed and fired but he did not release a single bullet. Now in the military it is an offence of high level to defy others from above and to do this in a public ceremony of this magnitude was unthinkable. I quickly asked old soldier in my curiosity why he chose to defy the orders. His response struck me! He said “am I God to take their lives because of their sins and mistakes? Am I not a sinner like them? Even those who condemned them to die are worst criminals and robbers yet they are still alive”. This decision by old soldier sent him to detention with hard labour for about three years before he was dismissed from the army. For him it was better for him to have served the term and got dismissed than to live forever with the guilt of killing a fellow sinner!
We happen to live in a world where each person sees herself/himself as more righteous than the others or better than the others. For instance many people condemn the corruption in high places but pay little or no attention to the pockets of corruption they orchestrate at their different areas of activity. We are ready to kill and maim someone who happens to steal a piece of meat but with our pens and mouths we plan and execute official robbery and siphoning of public funds. We condemn terrorists and their homicidal projects yet many people officially commit murder everyday not only through various forms abortion but also through defamation, character assassination, deception and dishonesty.
In all these we could then ask “who is the worst sinner?” Could it be just the one whose acts are made known publicly like the man that Nathan portrayed in the ironical story he told David in the first reading concerning the wicked rich man who forcefully took the ewe lamb (the only possession) of the poor man to entertain his guest or could we all reckon ourselves as sinners in the superlative sense and allow God to do the analysis? Surely the bible is very clear on this when in Proverbs (24:16) we are told that the just man falls seven times a day and seven times rises up again and in Romans (3:23) St. Paul stated that we all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. When you point one accusing finger at someone you have three other fingers pointing at you and one finger pointing to heaven and witnessing to God.
Today is another typical Sunday where we have a connecting line between the first reading from the Old Testament and the gospel reading from the New Testament. In the first reading we are presented with the aftermath of the sin of David which was three-dimensional: lust, adultery, and murder. He saw a woman taking her bath; he lusted after her, committed adultery and later killed her husband to cover his acts when the woman became pregnant and the husband was in the battle field.
Nathan came with an ironical story that ended up rousing the anger of King David against whosoever could have been so wicked as to have taken away the only possession of a poor man. By his disposition, the King was pointing an accusing finger on the wicked rich man but unfortunately three fingers were pointing at him with the one pointing towards heaven convicting him that he was actually the wicked rich man. When Nathan finally made King David to realize that the act which he felt was hidden from everyone was known to God and man he was genuinely penitent and asked for forgiveness. David’s heartfelt penitential prayer is articulated in Psalm 51.
From this episode involving David we can learn that nobody is beyond the misfortune of falling into sin; even the conceivably great man or woman. Of course at his own time David was the greatest and was loved so much by God; however these attributes are not by themselves antidotes to sin. They should have rather made him to realize that to whom much is given much is expected (Luke 12:48) and the corruption of the best is the worst kind of corruption.
In the gospel reading from Luke (7:36-8:3) we come across a woman who came to meet Jesus Christ in the house of Simeon the Pharisee who had offered to host our Lord. The woman who had no name (an indication that she represents all of us in our sinfulness) not only came uninvited but also went to the feet of Jesus Christ to CRY, CLEAN his feet with her TEARS, covered the feet with KISSES and ANOINTED the same feet with an alabaster of costly perfume. We are here left with so many things to ponder from the dramatic actions of the woman.
The woman in question was not invited to the banquet in the house of Simeon; in our contemporary outlook we could say that she barged into the party. However her motive was neither food nor drink! She saw the coming of Jesus Christ in her neighbourhood as an opportunity to “report herself” (in the same manner as some people use similar opportunities to go for confession).She was aware of the fact that the crowd will condemn her as a sinner but she wanted to confirm if she still had a chance before the great teacher of all times.
There are times when we could be so overwhelmed by our situations that we lack the appropriate words! This was the situation with the woman she lacked words but she could produce tears of penitence and sorrow for sin. She used her tears to wash the feet of Jesus, and used her hair to dry them and covered them with kisses. This reminds us of the washing of the feet of the apostles by our Lord Jesus Christ during the last supper with the apostles (John 13:1-20). In the context of the washing of feet of the apostles, our Lord said “not all of you are clean”. The woman was in essence demonstrating symbolically the mission of Jesus Christ which is to wash us from our sins and defilement. And this he did with love symbolized by the kisses. To kiss is a way of demonstrating that somebody or something is precious. She went further to anoint his feet with costly perfume which (if it is nard) is about the annual wage of a labourer which is at the same time about the amount the slave with the greater debt in the parable was owing the master. The woman like David did not argue about her sinful life she was more disposed for forgiveness and another chance to rewrite her story. She put in the best she had in order to be better realigned to God whom she had offended so much.
The central message in the gospel is not even about the woman, so-called a public sinner (though no sin was mentioned but it seemed prostitution was the most probable). The focus is more on those who indicted her and called her names. Simeon who was playing host to our Lord had in his thought said IF our Lord were to be a prophet he would have known who and the sort of person the woman was. This thought is typically Pharisaic. Outwardly Simeon had welcomed Jesus as a prophet but inwardly he was in doubt. He actually got it wrong. Our Lord knew that the woman and just like anyone there had been in sin but the reaction to a sinner should not be rejection but love which will serve as a light to bring the sinner out of darkness. For Simeon our Lord should have ordered the woman out of the banquet hall because of her sins that are known to people.
The parable of the two debtors was meant to demonstrate to Simeon that he was also a sinner like the woman though the latter’s sins could be said to be public. Good to note here that the worst sinner is not the person whose sins go public but the one who does not attend to his/her sins but concentrate on those of others. The woman here recognized her MANY SINS and did MANY THINGS to get the attention of our Lord Jesus Christ who in turn surprised her with forgiveness and went further to trademark her with faith-filled woman (no longer sinful woman). It actually takes faith to approach Jesus Christ in such a putrid condition and it also takes faith to perform those salvific and Christological acts. St. Paul takes this up in the second reading of today (Gal.2:16,19-21) where he indicated the fact that we are justified through faith in Jesus Christ. For the woman to come with an alabaster of costly perfume was an indication that she was certain about what she hoped for (this is faith).
The reading aptly turns our attention to the fact that we all are sinners. We are also meant to understand that every sinner has a future just like every saint had a past. St. John would tell us (1 John 1:9) that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. In the book of Psalm (103:12) David assures us that as far as the East is from the West so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
One common denominator in the two readings is the fact of accepting our failings and being ready to turn a new leaf. David did not rationalize over his heinous act as some of us will begin to pile up reasons upon reasons like “it was the fault of the woman as she was bathing by that time of the day” or “when I called her she did not resist” etc. The woman at the house of Simeon did not utter a word of defence the whole duration of the talk about her sinfulness; she relied on what the Lord had to say about her.
No matter the depth of our sins God is still ready to wash us and reintegrate us into union with him (Isaiah 1:18). Of course he is not interested in the death of a sinner but in his repentance (Ezekiel 33:11). Sometimes we are blinded by pride, self-sufficiency and unnecessary feelings of shame that we lose the connection to our repentance. Unlike the woman most of us do not have the courage to go up to the Lord and unzip our sinful hearts to him. Today is the appointed day for us to walk up to the Lord and ask for mercy and pardon. Tomorrow may just be too late. If the woman in the gospel dismissed the idea of barging into the house of Simeon at that hour we may not have heard about her and per adventure she could have died without those words of the Lord on her and her future. “Oh that today you listen to His voice harden not your heart” (Psalm 95:7).
Have a blissful Sunday and remain doubly blessed!