TRINITY  2 :   13 June, 2010

Luke 7 : 36 – 8 : 3

The love of God

Today’s gospel presents us with two contrasting responses to the presence of Jesus: Simon the Pharisee and the woman who is a sinner. One a negligent omission of the usual rituals and the other an overwhelmingly generous response of gratitude and love.

Jesus might well have let Simon get away with what was lacking in his welcome, for what actually provokes the Lord’s rebuke is not so much the glaring contrast between the two responses to his presence but Simon’s attitude to the woman. It must have been obvious from his bearing and face what he was thinking: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that it is a sinner”. He can see her sin, her need of God but is oblivious to his own.

Yes, she is a sinner and precisely because she knows this and is repentant and has faith in Jesus, her sins which are many are forgiven her: “Therefore I tell you, her sins which are many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love”.  Jesus continues: “Your faith has saved you - go in peace”.

The woman knows her need of the love and forgiveness of God and is thus able to receive them and to show “great love” in return. Whereas the Pharisee does not know his need of God’s love and forgiveness in quite the same way, so he is only able to show “little love”: “the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little”. Although not spelt out as such, the corollary can safely  be taken to refer to him.

The woman’s sins are forgiven, hence she has shown great love. Her love is, of course, only a response to the love of Jesus. Our love is only possible because of God’s love in the first place. ”We love because he first loved us” says St. John in his first letter. (4:19)

We love because he first loved us. The love of God is always first on the scene.

I recall a joint CR/OHP retreat at the idyllic Good Shepherd retreat Centre overlooking the Hartebeespoort dam in the Magaliesberg mountains, South Africa. It was led by Bishop Verstraete, a retired RC bishop who had been deeply involved in the catholic charismatic movement. Before one of the addresses, we sang the well-known  chorus: "Father we adore you, lay our lives before you, how we love you".  At the end he commented with great conviction that the last line wasn’t quite right.

Instead of “How we love you” it should be “how you love us”. He said that God’s love was always the prime cause, the prime mover and whatever we did was only a response to that  love.

How you love us. That has always stayed with me. So we sang it over again, this time with those words.

At Pentecost we read from St. Paul how “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the holy Spirit who has been given to us”(Rom 5:5) and this past Friday we celebrated the feast of the Heart of Jesus - his sacred heart of love, mercy and compassion, which beats with overflowing love for us; each one of us.  A truly generous and overwhelming outpouring of the love of God upon us.  

That we may always be open to receive and respond to this great love is perhaps the greatest challenge in living the Christian life. Thankfully, today’s collect comes to our aid:

"Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without love are nothing worth. Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, the true bond of peace and all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted as dead before you. Grant this for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

A CR Brother