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​And if it were a sermon?

· The difficult art of recognizing love in Luke’s Gospel ·

We are publishing here the commentary of the nun of Bose on Lk 7:36-8:3, from her book “La follia del vangelo” (Qiqajon, 2014).

Once again the Gospel proclaims to us what it has most at heart, namely that the beginning, the end and the very substance of faith which it wants to awaken in our hearts is love. It proclaims that living in the faith of Jesus is living for others, conforming ourselves to the One who came not to be served but to serve; and that therefore the one visibility of faith, the one Christian eloquence is the humble and great love of those who serve their neighbour. Now, precisely because faith either comes at the high price of love freely given or does not exist at all, the Gospel puts its finger in a great wound, showing the eternal temptation of religious people: faith which wants to make itself visible at a low cost, evading the responsibility of love.

The Gospel scene tells of Jesus’ great love for a woman who was a prostitute. Her love was not shown in words – in fact she says nothing at all – but by the eloquence of the loving, humble and wise actions of a true expert in love. Jesus sees her actions of such loving and humble service, completely silent, and recognizes her faith and her salvation. And in the end he says to her “Your faith has saved you; go in peace”. And we shall find her again with Jesus and the other disciples, men and women, serving them.

Paolo Veronese, “Dinner at the House of Simon the Pharisee” (1567-1570)

However, beside Jesus’ gaze we are told of the reaction to these same actions of a religious man, Simon, a member of the group of Pharisees and the master of the house, who had invited Jesus to eat with him.

The Gospel is pitiless in telling us of Simon’s blinded view, of his perception distorted by what was happening before his eyes. Where there is a great love, that of the woman, he sees impurities and sin. Where there is discernment and Jesus’ acceptance, full of love and wonder, of the woman who loves so much, he sees a lack of religious devotion, a contradiction to holiness, a denial of Jesus’ identity as a prophet. Neither the woman’s actions nor Jesus’ attitude to her provoke Simon into questioning himself but are solely an opportunity to strengthen him in his vicious blindness. Jesus on many occasions denounced the great evil of blindness and hypocrisy that tempts religious people, who claim that religious identity counts more than actions, more than what one does or does not do; and who use their religious identity as experts in God’s law as an escape from the responsibility to act with justice, truth and love which that very law gives to everyone. Let us never forget that in Matthew 25 all the serious sins contested are sins of omission.

Simon, ignorant of love, did not recognize it in the woman’s freely given actions. Having missed the evidence and knowledge of those actions, what other knowledge would be left to him? In fact, the reason why he doubted in Jesus – “if this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him” – reveals that he did not even know the ministry that God, out of love for his people, gave to his servants the prophets in the Sacred Scriptures of Israel.

Isn’t the prophet’s ministry perhaps his exhausting and holy existence between God’s holiness and the wretchedness as well as the moral impoverishment of the people? His admonishments to them in order that they might return to God, stop committing injustices and start to love their neighbour? And Jesus in fact, as a true prophet seeing in the woman’s love her healing and salvation, takes care of Simon who is the truly sick one.

The blindness of Simon, a religious man, is a severe prophetic and evangelical reprimand to all of us. What David our father was able to listen to and recognize from the lips of the Prophet Nathan in the Old Testament – “You are the man” (2 Sam 12:7) – the Gospel tells each one of us. Because the Gospel never confirms us in our prejudices. On the contrary, in revealing our hypocrisy, it warns us to awaken and be converted.

Just as Simon’s blindness is a severe reprimand, so the loving discernment of the woman and of Jesus are a fundamental magisterium for us. That woman, first among all, with the intuition of love sees in Jesus a poor man and also a man of God, true and compassionate, and does for him all that it is in her power to do, all that her deep knowledge of love suggests to her. In the Gospel it does not say that this woman is seeking forgiveness and salvation. No. And this is important too. Her own salvation can never be the purpose of love: it is only, but always, its consequence. For anyone who seeks to save his or her life loses it, and only a person who loses his life for love saves it. About that woman the Gospel speaks only of her great love and her ability not to let herself be inhibited by the master of the house, whose reaction she was well able to predict from experience.

And the gaze of Jesus, who lets himself be filled with wonder as if by a revelation and can treasure these freely given and eloquent acts of love, is a magisterium for us. He can draw from them not only consolation but also edification and teaching for himself. Indeed, before being captured and killed, to give an eloquent sign of the greatness, humility and freedom of his love for the disciples, he bent over their feet and washed them. With this narrative the Gospel implores us to look and to discern in order to recognize love everywhere that it shows itself, not heeding people’s good or evil reputations, and to learn to love from them.

In speaking to Simon Jesus utters a twofold sentence: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little”, thereby testifying to a double link between forgiveness received and love. This twofold sentence, which does not speak of the difficulty of pardoning but rather of that of being aware of the other’s very need for forgiveness, is a good criterion for both the discernment and the interpretation of our loves: both of those that are happy and of those that are wretched, or those that are completely lacking.

We must ask ourselves about every kind of love that we experience whether it leads us to know ourselves better as people in need of forgiveness or whether, instead, it diminishes or even extinguishes our capacity to love.

Maria dell’Orto

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