Love flows from forgiveness

A nameless woman offers to Jesus one of the most extraordinary acts of love and devotion seen in the Gospels. She encounters the living God and discovers love Himself who bestows on her His tender mercy. This encounter leads her to pour out her love in an exceptional act of devotion.

Known as a sinner in the town and therefore not welcome to the Pharisee's home, she ignores this social and religious convention, barges into his dinner party, and brazenly engages his guest of honor. This courageous woman stands at the feet of Jesus, weeps profusely, bathes His feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses them and then anoints them with ointment. This astonishing act is an expression of profound humility, deep love and inspiring gratitude.

Her actions stand in stark contrast to those of Simon, the Pharisee, who also failed to follow social convention. It was common courtesy when a guest came to your house for dinner to provide water for their feet, extend a kiss as a sign of welcome, and to anoint their head with oil. The Pharisee did none of these things for the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, who came to dine at his house. Ironically, the sinful woman provided what the Pharisee did not.

Jesus offers a simple comparison to explain the meaning of this shocking experience to everyone at the dinner party. "'Simon, I have something to say to you.' 'Tell me, teacher,' he said. 'Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed 500 days' wages and the other owed 50. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?" Simon said in reply, "The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.' He said to him, 'You have judged rightly.'"

The unnamed woman knew that her sins were grave and numerous. She could not make up for all that she had done. She probably lost hope in ever being restored to a good relationship with God. Jesus forgave her sins and erased her debt before God. What followed was a spontaneous act of tender love that expressed her joy, her thankfulness and her relief. Love flows from forgiveness.

Pope Francis deeply wants everyone walking this earth to experience the tender mercy of Jesus this year. One could argue that this is a central reason that Cardinal Bergoglio chose the name "Pope Francis." St. Francis of Assisi's vision for his brothers was bold and simple from the start. St. Francis wanted his little brothers to go up into the mountain hermitages, get away from the world, drink deeply from the springs of prayer and the Eucharist, and then go down into the world joyfully proclaiming repentance.

This great Jubilee of Mercy is first and foremost an invitation for Christians to renew their own awareness of their sinfulness and its effects on the world, repent with renewed fervor and boldly bestow upon Jesus acts of humility, love and gratitude. We are called to imitate the nameless woman in our love for Jesus.

Secondly, this great jubilee is an invitation to invite others to encounter Christ and His amazing mercy. Every one of us has contact with people who have wandered from the faith or who have never really encountered Jesus.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we need help with this great task. Let us turn to the Lord, seek His guidance and courage, and find the best moment, the proper words and appropriate venue to invite these people to encounter Christ and His life-changing, tender mercy.

Generous love flows from forgiveness.

Fr. Peterson is assistant chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016