After the funeral of our dear friend’s dad, everyone met for lunch. As friends and family filed in, I considered the love which accompanied them. All concerned would find great comfort in this gathering. As it happened, my husband and I reconnected with mutual friends and our friend’s family members. In the midst of this, one of these friends greeted me with a hug and then shared, “I’m so happy you two are here. I really need to talk to Mike. I’m scared to death about dying and I need to talk to him. Do you think he’d meet me for lunch?” I ignored this woman’s question because I was completely taken aback by her fear. “Oh my gosh! Why are you so afraid?” I asked. Before she could answer, I quoted from the homily my husband had given at the funeral just ninety minutes earlier. “Did you hear what Mike said? Remember the frightened girl in the wagon? Her dad hugged her and reminded her, ‘You’re my baby! You’re my baby!’ That’s what God says to all of us in one way or another when we die and God will say the same thing to you!”
Sadly, neither Mike’s homily nor my words consoled this dear soul. Her eyes filled with tears as she explained God’s anger with her because she hadn’t been to church in a while. Her pastor had hurt her in the midst of a very sensitive situation. When she tried to follow-up, he didn’t take the time to listen. This sweet woman confessed that she couldn’t return to her parish because the pain of it was too much. She assured us, “I know that God is really angry with me. I’m afraid to die because I know I’m going to hell.” It was at this point that my husband chimed in. Mike explained that he wasn’t kidding or offering hollow platitudes when he spoke at the funeral that morning. “Trust me,” Mike said. “There’s nothing you can do to force God to stop loving you. You can choose to walk away, but God never will.” Mike also pointed out that there are other parishes in the area which would happily welcome her. I think our tormented friend believed Mike on both counts because her frown morphed into a smile and her tears disappeared as she returned to her table.
Unfortunately, our wrongdoing is nothing new. Fortunately for us all, the same is true of God’s forgiveness. The scriptures illustrate the worst of our sinfulness and the best of God’s mercy. We can begin with Samuel’s account (2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13) of King David who committed adultery with Uriah’s wife. If this wasn’t enough, David sent Uriah to battle in the front lines where he would certainly be killed. After Uriah’s death, Nathan the Prophet called David on his actions. Perceptive man that he was, David admitted his guilt before Nathan and before God. In response, Nathan assured David, “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin…”
In his letter to the Galatians (2:16,19-21), Paul outlined his own struggle with the law. Before encountering Jesus, Paul had murdered numerous Christians because they violated the law in what Paul considered to be essential ways. When Paul realized his misplaced zeal, he admitted, “I died to the law, that I might live for God.” With that, Paul freed himself to share Jesus’ message regarding God’s mercy and love. These passages offer powerful evidence of God’s amazing ability to move beyond our sinfulness. Luke’s gospel speaks to our funeral friend’s dilemma as well.
Luke (7:36-50) chronicles Jesus’ visit to the home of Simon the Pharisee. When Simon welcomed Jesus, he neglected to offer the traditional signs of respect which included a kiss, water for Jesus to wash his feet and anointing him with oil. Still, in spite of his own omissions, Simon became outraged when a woman known for her sinfulness entered the dining room and fell at Jesus’ feet. The woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and anointed them with ointment. Since Jesus hadn’t acknowledged the woman’s sinfulness, Simon was convinced that Jesus wasn’t a prophet after all. Fully aware of Simon’s anger and distrust, Jesus asked him who would love his master more, a debtor forgiven a small amount or a debtor forgiven a fortune. Simon responded with the obvious. With that, Jesus closed the discussion: “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.”
I’m not certain how my funeral friend’s absence from Mass compares to the infractions of the poor woman who threw herself at Jesus’ feet. What I am sure of is that Simon chose to pass judgment and Jesus did not. My funeral friend’s former pastor chose to pass judgment and God did not. Perhaps my husband the deacon said it best after all: “There’s nothing you can do to force God to stop loving you. You can choose to walk away, but God never will.”
©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved