David, Israel’s anointed king, is remembered as one of the greatest heroes of Israel’s faith. His military prowess and political astuteness assured a future for Israel’s divided tribes. Jesus himself would be welcomed into Jerusalem as a Son of David, the fulfilment of the promises made to David.
History also records David as an example of repentance, and makes no attempt to hide his failings. “You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, taken his wife for your own, and killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.”
David immediately submitted to the charge brought by Nathan the prophet. His repentance is echoed in the responsorial psalm. “But now I have acknowledged my sins. My guilt I did not hide. I said: I will confess my offence to the Lord.”
Underlying the stark facts of David’s sin and forgiveness is the wonder of divine forgiveness, a grace that is truly creative, that renews the heart of the sinner and that frees a burdened conscience to sing the praises of God.
Possibly we take God’s forgiveness for granted and, in so doing, fail to acknowledge the consequences of our own sinfulness. Sin, great or small, undermines the very foundations of what God created us to become. It destroys the joy of living as the kind of person the Father intended us to be. It diminishes our sense of belonging to God and to each other.
In its statement that only faith in Christ puts us at rights with the Father, St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians takes us to the heart of this mystery. The experience of daily life convinces us that we are more than capable of sinning. That same experience reveals that we cannot, of ourselves, undo the consequences of our sin. This was what Paul meant when he said that no one can be justified by keeping the law. Any law simply underlines our guilt. It cannot in any manner address the guilt and alienation that sin brings. It is only in a truly personal encounter with the Lord that we are set free from the past, that we begin to live with the Lord. “The life I now live I live in faith: faith in the Son of God who loved me and who sacrificed himself for my sake.”
Human forgiveness, precisely because of our limitations, will always hold something back. Divine forgiveness, humbly petitioned in faith, makes us one with Christ whose cross held back nothing. Luke’s account of the forgiven woman who washed and anointed the feet of Jesus unfolds the depths of divine forgiveness. The stark contrast between Jesus who unreservedly welcomed the woman, and the Pharisee who wanted to exclude her, is a commentary on the all too human tendency to condemn rather than to forgive.
Through the parable of the two debtors Jesus brought the Pharisee to the admission that renewed love for God is the unmistakable fruit of divine forgiveness. “You see this woman? I came into your house and you poured no water over my feet, but she poured out her tears over my feet. You gave me no kiss… you did not anoint my feet.
For this reason I tell you that her sins, her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love.” In these words we begin to understand the grace of forgiveness. When we turn to the Lord in faith, his forgiveness re-creates in frozen hearts the capacity to love. The woman was not only forgiven.
She became alive with the love of God. In the words of St Paul, she lived no longer with her own life, but with the life of Christ living in her.
May we never cease to seek such forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.