Scripture in Depth
Reading I: 2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13
This passage fits in neatly not only with the Gospel but also with the second reading. All three readings proclaim the forgiveness of sin.
The prophet Nathan acts as a father confessor to David. Nathan had previously stabbed David's conscience with the parable of the ewe lamb, confronting him with the brutal truth: “You are the man.” David confesses, “I have sinned against the Lord,” and Nathan declares that God has put away his sin.
This is the classic Old Testament statement of the pattern of self-examination in the light of Gods law, followed by confession of the sin as an offense against God and not merely against another person (see Ps 51:4: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned”), and concluding with the confessor's declaration that God has put away the sin.
Responsorial Psalm: 32:1-2, 5, 7, 11
Instead of using the psalm which, according to picturesque tradition, David sang after his sin with Bathsheba (Psalm 51), we respond with another of the seven traditional penitential psalms.
This is one that Paul used (Rom 4:7-8). preceded by the comment: “So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works.”
Sacramental absolution is, like baptism and the Eucharist, a sacrament of justification through the grace of Christ alone, apart from the works of the law.
Reading II: Galatians 2:16, 19-21
This is one of the classic Pauline statements about justification. To be justified means to be in the right with God. The basic quest of religion—here Paul, Luther, and Trent are at one—is to be in the right with God.
Paul had tried to get himself right with God by keeping the Mosaic law. In his encounter with Christ, he learned that this justification is something not to be earned but to he received as a gift through the Christ-event.
It is not faith that is the primary cause of justification but the act of God in Christ, an act described by Paul as “grace,” sheer unmerited forgiveness of the sinner. Faith is the subjective condition on the human side for receiving God's forgiveness.
“Justification by faith alone” is shorthand for “justification by the grace-full act of God in Christ apprehended by the human being through faith alone.”
That we are justified by faith and not by the works of the law does not mean that works have no place in the Christian life, for they are the fruit of faith, The justified sinner now “lives with God.” This new life is a paradox.
The Christian puts forth the utmost moral effort, and yet knows that it is not he or she but “Christ who lives in me” (see the similar paradox in Phil 2:12-13). This paradoxical understanding of the relation between faith and works should help us to transcend the antitheses of the Reformation.
But is the message of justification relevant today? Does the contemporary person, like Luther, seek a gracious God? Is not the modern question, as Martin Marty suggests, rather the question whether there is a God at all?
Was Bonhoeffer right in rejecting the notion that people first have to be made sinners—which they do not feel themselves to be—before they can hear the gospel?
Do we transcend the dichotomy between the Council of Trent and the Reformation by saying that both sides were concerned about an obsolete issue? Or is the question of justification not merely one approach to the Christian message but rather its central concern?
Do we answer that question from an analysis of modern men and women or from a confrontation with the message of the New Testament?
These are basic issues for contemporary theology, exegesis, and preaching.
Gospel: Luke 7:36-8:3 or 7:36-50
The crucial problem of this Gospel is highlighted in the caption: “Her many sins were forgiven her, because she has shown great love.” Taken at face value, these words suggest that the woman has earned forgiveness by her act of devotion and so was justified by works and not by faith.
But a closer examination of the pericope shows that if this is the correct interpretation, it contains a glaring contradiction.
The parable of the two debtors, which precedes our saying, makes love the outcome of forgiveness. To the question “Now which of (the two debtors] will love him more?” the answer comes, “The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more.”
Later on it is stated that the person who is forgiven little, loves little. This means that we can only understand the woman's action in one way. Her extravagant act of devotion is a sign that her sins, “which are many,” have already been forgiven.
How were they forgiven? By Jesus' acceptance of her, sinner though she was.
The long form of the Gospel, with its list of the women who also accompanied Jesus, might encourage the longstanding but erroneous tradition that Mary Magdalene was the woman whose many sins were forgiven and who therefore performed the extravagant act of devotion.
There is nothing in the New Testament to warrant this identification.
Moreover, our pericope may be a combination of two different incidents—that of a woman who anointed Jesus and that of a woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. The latter action is much more a sign of penitence than the former.
**From Saint Louis University