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JUNE 17, 2007: Eleventh Sunday of the Year


II Samuel 12:7-10, 13
Galatians 2:16, 19-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

Those who identify with our sacred authors' faith are convinced God not only can, but often does work through individuals who aren't exactly "good folk," Nowhere is this insight clearer than in today's first reading.

Though David's gone down in history as the greatest Jewish king, rarely are we encouraged to imitate his personal life. Not only is he the Bible's worst parent, he's also an adulterer and murderer. In the passage immediately preceding our liturgical selection, he engages in sex with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of his mercenaries. Determined to cover up the pregnancy resulting from this illicit encounter, David eventually arranges for the hapless husband to be "accidentally" killed by the enemy.

Only Nathan the prophet has courage to confront the king, warning, ". . . The sword shall never depart from your house . . . ." To David's credit, he admits, "I have sinned against Yahweh," forcing the prophet to take away some of God's punishment. Yet Yahweh's forgiveness neither takes away the sinful dimensions of David's personality, nor limits God's ability to accomplish good through him.

Jesus of Nazareth shared that aspect of biblical faith. Though some liberal Scripture scholars question how much we actually can know about the historical Jesus, not even they deny he related to sinners in a way that created problems for pious people.

No matter the "sins" of the woman in today's gospel pericope, Jesus demands that Simon, her critic, also acknowledge the good in her act of anointing. "Her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love . . . . The one to whom little is forgiven, loves little."

Paul shows that Jesus' earliest followers imitated their mentor's knack of cutting through the externals and surfacing a person's real psyche. Writing against those who taught it essential for Christians to follow Moses' 613 laws, the Apostle states, "We . . . know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Christ Jesus . . . ."

Though Paul talks about sharing faith in Jesus, we're certain the Lord's most immediate followers would have imitated the faith of Jesus. Both expressions describe the same reality. We demonstrate our faith in Jesus when we mirror the faith of Jesus.

Jesus' faith in God's ability to work through all people enables him to associate with sinners.

No one should skip over the last three verses of today's gospel. Both Mark and Matthew mention the women who Good Friday afternoon looked on at a distance while Jesus was crucified, women who "had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him." But only Luke mentions the presence of these women in Jesus' life and ministry long before Good Friday.

Luke's Jesus is just one chapter away from beginning his momentous eleven chapter journey to Jerusalem when the evangelist tells readers about Jesus' traveling companions. "Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities. . . who provided for them out of their resources." From that point in Luke's gospel, whenever he refers to Jesus' disciples we're to presume they're both male and female, a fact many through the centuries have conveniently overlooked.

No one should be surprised at Jesus' openness to women. He experienced God present, working in all people. Perhaps that why Paul, one chapter after today's Galatians pericope, reminds his readers that they're to imitate the risen Jesus' distinctive trait of breaking through racial, social and gender limits. Those who can't pull that off are not only guilty of professing a non-biblical faith, they're also guilty of putting limits on God.