Forgiveness is For Giving (not withholding)

Hello! This post is unlike anything I’ve shared before: it’s an actual academic exegesis I wrote for my Synoptics class. You know how I sound when I write casually, now hear how I sound as a wannabe-scholar… (I promise, there are some really amazing things I learned and want to share with you!) The paper is based on one of my favorite verses in all Scripture, Luke 7:47: Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.

Lk7-47.png

Luke 7:41-50 (RSV)

[41] “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?” [43] Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” [44] Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. [46] You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. [47] Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  [48] And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” [49] Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” [50] And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Introduction:

Ideally, the entirety of Luke 7:36-50, known as “A Sinful Woman Forgiven,” would be explored and discussed. However, the confines of this essay restrict us to an abridged reading covering only v.41-50, which exudes yet a great deal of wealth for faith that seeks understanding. The scene opens with Simon the Pharisee inviting Jesus to dine with him, which our Lord accepts. At table, a seemingly notorious woman approaches the Lord and begins to do him homage in the presence of Simon and others at table. Seeing this, Simon secretly criticizes Jesus for allowing this woman to even touch him, “for she is a sinner,” at which point, Jesus addresses a parable and lesson to Simon, and to us as well.

The Parable and the Pardon:

To help understand this parable in Luke 7, we must know the value of a denarius. In New Testament times, a sole denarius was a standard day’s wage,[1] and so in Jesus’ brief parable, one debtor owes fifty days’ worth of wages, whereas the other owes 500 days’ worth. Because the creditor cancels both debts, the difference between the debtors, with one owing a far larger amount, is important for grasping the message Jesus seeks to impart. Firstly, that the debtors cannot repay their debts, though the amounts owed would normally be repayable (unlike the debt owed by the unforgiving servant from Matthew 18:21-35), shows that perhaps unforeseen problems (e.g., debilitating injuries or disease) have arisen and made the debtors incapable of repayment. Allegorically, our debilitation is the sin of Adam, as well as all subsequent personal sin. Some bear greater sin than others, but all remain debilitated by Original Sin until Baptism, and then debilitated again with each following grave sin committed. Thus, sin is not merely debt but debilitation also.

Our Lord then says a peculiar thing in mentioning love with his question in v. 42, the original Greek of which is agapēsei (ἀγαπήσει) and means a love more nuanced toward willingness and commitment.[2] This is strange, for the business relationship between debtors and creditors usually do not involve love of any real sort, much less agapic love. Appreciation, gratitude and further indebtedness would be more fitting, but here actually lies the potential for love: the creditor in cancelling debt acts not only generously, but acts charitably,[3] acts as a benefactor who need not do such a thing out of lawfulness, but out of lavishness, out of love. Justice calls for the repayment of debt, but love becomes possible when a great debt is given, or rather, is forgiven as a gift to the debtor,[4] a gift of such immense cost that its giving transforms any stranger into a benefactor, into a lover, and any stranger into a beneficiary, into a beloved, for such great love moves the beloved to love freely in return. Thus, our Lord brings love into the parable of debt to reveal that the relationship is not one of economic basis, but of intimacy. He is priming Simon to “reconsider the meaning of [the sinful] woman’s actions – not the repayment of a debt, as though she were a slave girl or prostitute, but an expression of love that flows from the freedom of having all debts cancelled.”[5]

Indeed Simon understands, for Jesus responds that he “judged rightly” with his answer, but then Jesus does another peculiar thing. The Lord, while having turned to face the woman, asks Simon in v. 44, “Do you see this woman?” Jesus here is addressing Simon, but is looking at the woman, and doing so implies that Simon, though he sees the woman, does not truly see her. In asking Simon from this posture and gesture, Jesus invites Simon to “adopt Jesus’ own view of matters concerning this woman,” to see her as he sees her, to stand in his place and look upon her, to “no longer viewing her as [merely] a ‘sinner’ but as one who loves extravagantly.”[6]

Jesus’ address to Simon is also toward us, for we also should imitate the Lord in seeing others not as mere sinners, but as beloved siblings in Christ. Furthermore, the Lord is calling us to also love him and neighbor extravagantly, as the woman loves. From vv. 44-46, Luke’s comparison of Simon’s lack of bare minimum hospitality with the woman’s overwhelming hospitality is also an allegory: Jesus is the divine guest to the household of man. He visits not for merely his enjoyment or sake, but exclusively for ours, and is yet met not only with inhospitality, but even with open hostility from his host.[7] The allegory continues as Luke reveals the woman expresses love with prodigality similar to that of the prodigal father from Luke 15. Her experience of the Lord’s mercy and love moves her to go beyond basic hospitality that society calls Simon to provide, and so Luke compares in vv. 44-46 the coldness of Simon with the woman’s affections, presented here as a table for emphasis, reproduced from Brendan Byrne’s text:[8]

SIMON

I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet,

You gave me no kiss,

You did not anoint my head with oil,

THE WOMAN

but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.

but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.

but she has anointed my feet with ointment.

With the case of Simon, as the host he should have extended courtesies to Jesus, and that would have been socially enough. Yet, the woman not only extends the courtesies, but humbles herself before the Lord in ways that would have been inconceivable for Simon to have done. Simon should have provided water for Jesus to wash on his own, should have welcomed the Teacher with a kiss and anointed his head, yet the woman not only gives water, but gives water drawn from her tears of love, and dries the Lord’s feet with her own hair, which is seen in New Testament times as a woman’s pride and glory. Moreover, the woman, like the centurion from just prior in Luke 7:6, does not consider herself worthy to kiss the Lord on his divine face, but only on his feet, and does not even dare anoint the Lord on his crown, but reaches for his feet alone. Her humility in act and her extravagance in provision show her gratitude and reflect the forgiveness she has experienced from Jesus. To forgive and seek forgiveness is an act of humility and extravagance both for the penitent and the person offended: humility because pride prohibits repentance from the sinner and prohibits mercy from the one sinned against, and extravagance because parsimony restricts atonement by the sinner and restricts charity by the one wounded.[9] The allegory deepens here and finds completion in v. 47, but before continuing, the term kiss deserves special discussion.

Of the four Gospels, only the Synoptic Gospels employ the term kiss, and of the Synoptics, Luke makes most use of the term. All three Evangelists present Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss, but only Luke presents kisses elsewhere in different pericopes: once in the parable of the prodigal, and thrice here regarding the repentant woman. The appearances of kisses is telling in Luke, since his first kiss is here in Luke 7, bestowed on the Lord by a sinner on behalf of repentant sinners, and the next kiss is that of God (through the person of the prodigal father) upon repentant sinners in Luke 15’s parable. Luke’s final kiss is Judas’. One can then read that Luke’s intent is much like how he closes some of his pericopes with open endings: what will we choose next? Will we join the celebration of the younger brother’s repentance and safe return, or stay in the darkness of resentment? Will we let the last kiss upon our Lord be that of betrayal, or will we kiss him again with love and gratitude from his forgiving us?

And therein lies the conclusion of the allegory, for in v. 47, not only has the woman shown great love to the Lord for his having forgiven her,[10] but Jesus has also forgiven us our many sins and we, as the character of Simon, have yet to show the Lord such love and gratitude. We have not been forgiven little, for we have even been forgiven for crucifying the Son of God with our sins, but then why do we love so little? And why do we love not only the Lord so little, but also our brothers and sisters who are no worse than we? In fact, we who come after the Lord’s Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension have far more to be thankful for compared to the repentant woman, and so we also are far guiltier since we have in malice sinned against the greater gift of the Lord’s full revelation. Thus, we should in repentance and reconciliation, through the sacrament of penance, express even more love than the woman here, for we have been forgiven far more.[11]

The Lord then declares to the woman: “Your sins are forgiven,” something that at this point is already obviously clear to the woman. Rather, Luke here suggests Jesus not as addressing the woman alone, but to Simon and his tablemates who were questioning the situation, and not merely to Simon and the others, but to us readers also. Jesus here is not assuring the woman of his forgiveness (for such had been done), but is declaring to Simon and the onlookers that the woman is now reconciled with God and with God’s people and should be treated and related to as such by the community,[12] and not as a “woman of the city, who was a sinner” (v. 37). The others at table, however, are not concerned about this restoration of a lost sheep into the fold, but rather turn to critique Jesus in v. 49 with words that hearken back to Luke 5:21, when Jesus earlier forgave the sins of the paralytic. How important it is for us not to follow in such critique, which may tempt us when we ourselves are grievously wounded and do not desire our offender to be reconciled with us or with Heaven. To prevent such further resentment toward a forgiven sinner, Jesus reemphasizes in v. 50 that indeed the woman’s faith has saved her and she is free to go in peace. Here, faith is not to be misunderstood as the instrument of her forgiveness, for the Lord alone forgives, but as the requirement to even seeking repentance in the first place. Faith is necessarily bound to metanoia, for “those who reject faith reject the everlasting life that Christ offers to the world.”[13] Lastly, the peace Jesus mentions in v. 50 is not limited to the woman’s personal and “‘spiritual’ well-being… but speaks of a restoration … to the full social intercourse from which she has been excluded.”[14] The woman was once lost but has now been found.

Conclusion:

Luke closes this pericope with an open ending, as mentioned earlier regarding the kisses found in the evangelist’s Gospel. Such endings challenge readers to imagine what Simon and the others at table will do, and ultimately what readers themselves will do. Will we love much since we have been forgiven much? Will we love the Lord extravagantly, fearlessly and without shame before others who may judge us as sinful and untouchable, perhaps even as unforgiveable? Will we ourselves in turn forgive others much since we ourselves have been forgiven infinitely more?

[1] Hahn, Scott, ed., Catholic Bible Dictionary, (New York: Doubleday, 2009), 211.

[2] Catholic Bible Dictionary, 553.

[3] The word forgave in vv. 42-43 is from the Greek charizomai and connotes “by way of gift,” as in charity. See: Johnson: 127, note #42.

[4] Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Gospel of Luke, (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1991), 127.

[5] Joel B. Green, Gospel of Luke, 312.

[6] Green, Joel B., The Gospel of Luke, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997), 312.

[7] Byrne, Brendan, The Hospitality of God, (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2015), 88.

[8] Ibid., 87.

[9] The parable of the Prodigal Son and Father in Lk. 15 further elaborates this nature of forgiveness.

[10] Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Gospel of Luke , 128. The woman’s love is the effect of the Lord’s forgiveness, not the cause of the Lord’s forgiveness, as can be misread in various translations. The preceding parable in vv. 41-43 also requires such a reading in v.47.

[11] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 72, a. 11.

[12] Green, Joel B., The Gospel of Luke, 314.

[13] Catholic Bible Dictionary, 764.

[14] Green, Joel B., The Gospel of Luke, 314.

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Zombie Theology

IAmLegend.jpgThe film “I Am Legend” is a far too underrated zombie story. It is well acted, well written, well scored and well played over all. Though a few years old now, it is still a fine viewing film, especially for the Advent and Christmas seasons (yep! you heard right, and they did indeed release the film during Advent 2007, after all). Let me show you why zombies and theology mix well here.




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Krippin Virus: both are good, and made with good intentions. The Tree that God made is by default good because He does not create anything less than good, because He is Goodness itself. The only bad was when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and doubted His goodness and love. They believed the lie and tried to usurp God. the consequences of this Original Sin are death, hatred, and evil in man. In the movie “I Am Legend,” the Krippin Virus is also made for good, but its consequences are too devastating to man.

IAmLegend3.jpg—–2) Season of Advent: the movie shows us that the beginning of the Krippin Virus (K.V.) outbreak was during the season leading up to Christmas time. Decorations are everywhere, and the decorations stayed up because the world fell apart waiting for a cure, a savior (magazine cover). We see that the effects of the virus are horrific
and ravaging, affecting soon all of mankind. This is an allegory for Original Sin and its consequences for all of us. The world is weary in fighting the illness of sin, with no hope of Heaven. At the same time, there are signs that God still loves us (throughout the movie). A motif representing this is the butterfly: a transformation from illness to health, from sinner to saint (i.e., same creature, different existence). So there is indeed hope, if we know how to read God’s signs, which increasingly become less and less random and more intentional. Advent is a time of waiting and preparation for Christians, and waiting for three things: a) Christmas as a memorial of Jesus’ birth, b) the coming of Jesus into our lives and hearts, c) the future Second-Coming of Jesus to judge the world in glory. And so we see int he film a perpetual advent, waiting for a cure, for salvation.

—–3) We are the infected in the film, sinners infected with concupiscence and death. Instead of destroying us in our evil (our illness), Jesus comes to redeem us. In the film, Neville does the same and seeks to cure us of our ills. Jesus is immune to our sins. Neville is immune to the virus. And Neville does not seek to wipe out all who have K.V., but rather hopes to help them, to save them.

—–4) In order to help us though, Jesus was born of a woman, Mary, who is a woman of great faith. Neville, in order to help us, also needs to be cared for by a woman of great faith. Please see points #9 and #11 for more about this.

—–5) As sin is atoned for by the shedding of blood (think of the Israelite animal sacrifices), Neville also sheds blood in order to cure us (i.e., he sacrifices himself for us, and the immunity to K.V. is in his blood). Jesus, of course is the true sacrifice who died to redeem all of us; it is Christ’s precious blood that saves us.IAmLegend2.jpg

—–6) Fisherman: Dr. Neville is shown to be a fisherman a few times in the film, either when he says “Like fishing in the dark, son” or when he is actually fishing. Now, the fisherman is a metaphor Jesus used also in the Gospels, not to mention that most of His apostles were actual fishermen (Peter and Andrew, James and John).

—–7) There is also the display of prayer in the film: Neville’s wife praying with Robert and their daughter before the family separates. We see here that the family is Christian and prayerful, devout enough to pause during an intense evacuation to petition Christ. They know who is the Lord and who is in charge (even though Neville later loses his faith).

—–9) “They won’t stop.” Neville says this toward the end of the film, realizing that the infected (the dark seekers) will not stop trying to kill him. This applies to Christian theology in that we sinners will not stop sinning, because we cannot stop on our own strength. We will live forever in our sins, unless we have help from someone above us (above sin), greater than us (greater than sin and its effects [death]), someone who is not ill (not a sinner) and has never been ill (never sinned) and cannot become ill (cannot sin). Coupled with all the talk and symbolism about “listening” and “light” and the analogy of the film to Christian theology only grows.
“I’m listening,” “the world is quieter now, if you listen, we can hear God’s plan,”: listening and finding the space, time and silence to listen in our prayer is essential. See how Neville misses all the signs God has provided for him (the butterflies), to encourage and assure him in his waning faith. See how Anna (the name of St. Mary’s mother, by the way) has learned to hear God and hold fast to Him in the darkness. See how the light works in the film: sinners (dark seekers) live and hide in the darkness, and those who are redeemed in Christ (those immune to K.V.) live in the light. Jesus, the Light of the World, is what the film is hinting at with this symbol.

—–10) “Don’t worry about a thing, because every little thing is gonna be all right…” This song is not only optimistic, but it’s the Christian way to live, because we know Christ not only was born to save us, but he died to save us, and he even came back from the dead for us! A God who loves that much, who is that powerful and close to us means we have nothing to worry about. True Christians do not worry about a thing because every little thing is gonna be all right, because the Lord is in charge — not us, not the devil, not the universe. Only Him. And He loves us.

—–11) Now if all these subtle nudges that the movie is a Christian allegory does not work enough, then there is the obvious rosary. Not only does it appear on Neville’s birthday (symbolizing Christmas, Mary, Jesus’ birth), but it also appears right at the moment when Neville is nearest to death, nearest despair. Yet, because he is meant for a mission, a woman arrives to help him bearing a rosary: the symbol and prayer of THE WOMAN: MARY, the Mother of God. This is not only important in the film, but also for us: we need the help of our mother’s (St. Mary) prayers. Jesus entrusted us to her care (John 19:25-27), and she is His mother. Think about this: she is His mommy, which means she loves Him more than any of us can, and He (because he is the perfect human being, and therefore the perfect child) loves her more than any of us can. “Never be afraid of loving Mary too much. You can never love her more than Jesus does.” -St. Maximilian Kolbe.

—–12) Finally, once at the survivor’s colony (sort of like a promised land, a haven… a heaven), the first thing we see when the gates are opened is… a church with bells ringing. And Anna and Ethan would never have made it were it not for Neville’s sacrifice: we will never make it home to heaven if not for Christ’s.IAmLegend4.png

—–13) And the date of the cure’s discovery is September 9th. If you are reading this and this date means something to you (you know who you are), then you know why this detail is important to me.

 

*Special thanks to HLD, an old friend who shared most of these insights with me years ago.

Gutting My Gluttony

BKChickenSandwich

I have quite a bottomless pit. Others have witnessed me pack up to five Burger King chicken sandwiches into my belly, and still others have seen me down 12 slices of Jet’s Pizza — deep dish, and square.

JetsPizza

I love food. And I love a challenge.

So this year, a few friends and I from the seminary discovered a Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup (aka Phở) restaurant that had the perfect recipe of food and challenge: finish a giant bowl of phở, and get it for free.

[kinda like this, except 22 times more phở!]

[kinda like this, except 22 times more phở!]

For free!

Oh, I was tempted all right. And Fat Tuesday was the perfect occasion! And I was being encouraged by my brothers and my philosophy professor to conquer that bowl: 1 gallon of beef soup, 1 pound of noodles, and then the meat!

But something wouldn’t let me do this. Something told me to pass it up and stay away. Something told me this was a travesty.

It was my conscience, and it said this was a classic case of gluttony and pride.

Here it was: a giant amount of food for one person, that could feed five! There are families out there who would beg to have a single noodle and a single sip. And here this was…

Needless to say, the more I thought about it, the more obnoxious it was to me. It didn’t matter how many cheerleaders rallied around me; I could not because I would not. I knew that even if I killed the challenge, I would have still been the loser because I wasted all that food on myself. I don’t need 5,000 calories in one sitting. And besides, what good would I do afterward? Food coma? Wow… that’s not impressive at all.

Pathetic, actually.

And that’s when I knew I had finally started to chase virtue instead of selfishness (and I’m so glad I did!)

Keep praying for me please, so that I never turn around.

And happy blessed Easter!

The Confessions of the Joker

Confession2

That’s right… even the Joker is serious about the Sacrament of Confession and Reconciliation! Have a listen to his conversion story!

Here’s the transcript:

Hi…

Most of you know me as the Joker. When Evan heard about my conversion, he contacted me and asked I could share my experience on Holy Smack. I said, I’d love to, but only if I could say whatever I wanted. He said okay. So here goes…

Last time you saw me, I wasn’t in a really good mood.
I killed people.
For fun.
I almost destroyed Gotham.
For fun.
And I tore down Gotham’s White Knight.
But her Dark Knight… oh, that Bat Man flipped my life around.
You see, while I was in prison, I was kept in isolation, and for good reason. I was insane.
And I never had any visitors. Except for one man.
He was a Catholic priest.
And he told me something I’ll never forget. In fact, I’m gonna tell you what he said, and I hope you’ll never forget it either:

You see, in confession, all your sins just… disappear.
You go into the confessional, and there’s the priest. Just sittin there. You can be anonymous to him, and he doesn’t care. You can tell him anything, even everything, and he doesn’t care. You think you’re sins are special? Original? Yeah… right… there was only one original sin, and Adam and Eve beat you to it long time ago…

Anyway, the priest can’t tell other people what you confess. What’s spoken in confession, really does stay ONLY in confession. He can’t tell your friends (if you have any), he can’t tell the police (yup, separation of Church and State at its best and original form), he can’t tell a recording device, he can’t tell another priest (not even the Pope!), and he can’t tell even your own sweet mother…

That’s called the seal of the confessional. And whatever you confess stays between you and Jesus. In fact, most priests even forget your sins as soon as you walk out the door. The Holy Spirit gives them a holy amnesia, otherwise, can you imagine living life knowing all the sleaze people do? It’d drive you crazy! Not to mention that confession can even get boring after you hear the same sin for the thousandth time… but don’t go out and try to impress a priest now! Trust me, that’s beside the point.

But in confession, you’re in hand to hand combat with the devil. Satan is a fiend. Worse than what I ever was. And he doesn’t want you there. He doesn’t want you anywhere near confession, because in confession, you’re really near the Lord. Confession is actually more powerful than exorcism! And in confession, you’re humbling yourself, and the devil is one prideful, stuck up jerk. And in confession, he’s hiding in the shadows of your past.

And the closer you get to Jesus, digging up your history of sins (and it might me from 5 years back, 20 years back, or maybe even just 20 minutes back), the stronger the light breaks in. Oh man… that light burns, like 10,000 UVA and UVB. And it obliterates the shadows. That’s when you can see the worst sins trying to get away from confession — they want to hide from being exposed. They first try to convince you that they’re no big deal, small fry, no more sins here, just move on. But keep going after them, and they get nasty. Then they try to convince you they’re too big for forgiveness, way too big to be rid of, way too much and you can’t handle it… you’ll be so embarassed by them.

Don’t listen to those lies. In fact, that’s when you know for sure this festering thing has to be purged. So grab it, and it’s black greasy tentacles will freak out. Like some leprous octopus. So drag it out into the light, spit it out in confession, and it’ll scream: “Let me go! Jesus can’t forgive you! You’re disgusting! Leave me alone!”

But that’s it’s last words. Because Lumen Christi — the light of Christ, that’s right, I know my Latin — His light sears and cuts that demon down, and it fizzles off like a fart in the wind. Nothing left. Just… gone.

That’s the power of the priest’s absolution: Christ working through the obedient and docile man, so he can pluck off and chop up the leeches that sucked on your soul. If you need to know how ugly sin is, just look up images of leeches and lampreys and pelican eels, and remember that sin is even uglier.

And now, why am I telling you this? Well because it worked for me.

I went to confession. And I confessed a sin that was festering in me since I was a little 10 year old boy. No matter how much a tried to stop, I just couldn’t keep clean. It haunted me, perverted me, and I lost control of my childhood. I was addicted; I became evil. But I didn’t want to stay this way.

So thank God. Because after that confession, that sin no longer had any control over me, and today, I’m free. Even in prison, my soul is free. I feel stronger and better today than I can ever remember!

And if it can work for me, it can work for you.

Now, all I need to do is try and talk like a normal person again… baby steps… baby steps…

God love you.