ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (C)
The state of the economy continues to be a topic of discussion these days, especially the growing divide between the rich and the poor in this country. In listening to all this talk, I get the impression that certain people are not so much concerned that the poor are poor, as they are angry that the rich are rich.
We should be concerned, out of love for our fellow man, that the poor have the basic necessities they need and the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty. If we can decrease the wealth gap by raising up the poor, that is commendable. But there are those who argue for decreasing the gap by pulling down the rich, and I am not sure what that is meant to accomplish.
What does this have to do with today's gospel reading? I suggest that a certain amount of jealousy is involved in this mode of thinking, and it is a jealousy that our Lord seems to have little patience with.
Staying with the economic analogy a little longer, I'll use myself as an example. I am the sole bread winner for a family of seven, and according to our Federal government we live just over the poverty line. However, when I look around me, I do not feel poor. We have a nice home, there are two cars in the driveway, my children have never wanted for clothes, there is always food in the fridge, we are able to take the occasional vacation; plus we have all sorts of modern wonders at our disposal such as high speed internet and smart phones.
I have never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from or whether I would have a bed to sleep in. Why should I be jealous of those who own yachts or vacation homes? Is it simply because I don't have those luxuries? What right have I to be jealous of those with more?
In today's gospel reading from Luke, the Pharisee is upset because Jesus allows a sinful woman to anoint His feet. He even forgives her sins! The scandal! Doesn't he know what sort of woman this is? the Pharisee thinks to himself.
Why should this Pharisee, who in his life has no doubt received many blessings, be upset over the charity our Lord shows to this sinful woman? The answer is jealousy. And jealousy is rooted in pride. The sinful woman has one thing this Pharisee lacks, and that is humility. She is humble enough to realize her sinfulness and to come to the Lord for forgiveness. Whereas the Pharisee presumes that his uprightness should earn him the Lord's favor.
Our second reading today from Galatians reminds us that we can never earn any favor from God. We are not justified by works of the law. (Neither are we justified by faith alone, as we are reminded of in the Epistle of James, but that is another topic).
The Pharisee believes that he is closer to God than the sinful woman. That's a little like someone standing on the shore at Myrtle Beach and wading four feet out into the surf; someone else wades out eight feet and boasts because he is twice as close to Spain!
Certainly some in this world strive to live holier lives than others, and that is commendable. We should all strive to live according to God's moral code, for our own well being and happiness. But we should not think that doing so can ever earn for us a greater portion of God's love. For God's love is infinite and boundless and extends even to the greatest sinner.
When such a sinner repents and seeks God's forgiveness, our response should be to rejoice, and not to resent it. Resentment betrays out own lack of faith and our presumption that somehow we "deserve more."
Jesus says the one of whom little is forgiven, loves little. But we all have been forgiven a great deal -- or can be if we but ask for God's mercy. It does not matter if we wade our four feet, eight feet, or eighty feet into the ocean. It is still a mighty long way to the other shore. God's forgiveness bridges that gap and brings us into His bosom.
Our response, in love, should be to show humble gratitude for His mercy. Harboring jealousy for our neighbors is a sure sign that we have our sights set on the wrong thing. Jealousy means we are looking at ourselves and what we think we deserve. Love means looking at God in awe of the goodness that extends such boundless mercy. When we focus our sights on God and His love for us, we become incapable or jealousy and resentment. We become emissaries of mercy.
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374 | POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723