Great Love and Much Forgiveness

By Rebecca Fullan

Forgiveness.  This week’s readings are all laced through with forgiveness, and the paradoxical journey people take toward it, and the overwhelming godly grace inherent in it.  I have to admit, forgiveness frightens me a little sometimes.  I think it’s the process it takes to get there, the fact that you have to admit to having done something wrong, the labyrinthine uncertainty of what, actually, you have done wrong, and what you haven’t.  I feel guilty for things over which I have never had any control, and I sometimes avoid like the plague things I could actually touch and change, mistakes I have actually made.

I’ve been feeling a little dimmed lately.  Do you ever feel that way?  Like everything around you is about the same but you are a little dimmer, more prone to nerves and anger and quiet lethargy?   I think this dimness is the opposite of forgiveness, in a way, and that opposition is more than just resentment.  It’s fear, too, that maybe the worst things about you are the truest things, that the moments of bravery and strength are illusory, transient, that even when you love you do not love enough.  Renewal begins to seem improbable, and perhaps something to edge away from, even if it is true.  What would I be, if I were made new?  Would it feel good?  Would I be me, still?

So, these readings.  They are all about what justifies, what it is that opens a person to renewal, and it seems wildly mysterious to me.  David hears a recitation of what he has done wrong, and, overwhelmed probably—can you imagine such an experience?  I suppose most of us have had such dressing-downs at times, though rarely for such dire-sounding acts—admits he has sinned, and that’s it!  The story reverses.  Forgiven.

The second reading takes up the question directly and says not by the law but by faith in Christ shall we be justified.  And I’m torn between liking this lawlessness, and seeing it as the seed of the weird little tracts I get urging me to say a little prayer invoking Jesus as my personal savior and that’s it!  Forgiven.  Hell, not just forgiven, saved.  I still wonder, saved from what?  When I feel the need to be saved, when that kind of language appeals to me, what do I wish to be saved from?  Or for?

And then we have this lovely woman with her foot washing and her anointing and her kisses and tears.  I like her a lot.  I like this story a lot.  Her love leads to her forgiveness.  In Jesus’ story about the debtors, her forgiveness leads to her love, but when he addresses her more directly, her love leads to her forgiveness.  “Her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.”

This makes sense to me.  Even the circular nature of the cause and effect of love and forgiveness makes sense to me.  They engender each other.  When I’m feeling dim, a lack of forgiveness of myself and others makes me far too closed off and frightened and defensive to respond in love.  On the other hand, when I do respond in love to what’s around me, forgiveness becomes easy—not a struggle to some achievement, but easy, like slipping off a coat when the weather grows too hot for it.  And with forgiveness, love can move freely, without barriers and “no trespassing” signs.

Forgiveness, I think, can be so frightening because it involves opening whatever is closed and clenched.  If my hand, my door, my self has been shut for awhile, who knows what is tucked away in there.  It seems easier to persist in little love, little forgiveness, hiding the rest from everyone and from myself.  I watch this reckless, loving woman in the gospel, and I wonder: what will I be, if I am made new?  If I have big, enormous love—and its corresponding openness?  I hesitate, but I do not look away.

Rebecca Lynne Fullan sees through a glass darkly, but likes the idea of face-to-face.  Maybe not in Confession, though.  Just saying.


2 Responses

  1. I once wrote a 10 page paper about the first reading so the thing I noticed most about the passage is what the Church left out.

    Here is the whole chapter 12 from 2 Samuel.

    I am far from a biblical scholar but I think this is one of the most disturbing chapters I’ve read in the Bible. Sure, the Lord doesn’t kill David but God does promise that other people will openly sleep with David’s wife…or excuse me “wives.” (Nevermind whether these women have anything to say about this). God then promises to kill David’s innocent son in retribution. David fasts and lies prostrate for a week to no avail. If that isn’t enough, after David is done mourning his lost son, he goes off and pillages and enslaves a village…and the last sentence casually mentions he casually does this to the rest of the Ammonite towns. Somehow war crimes and genocide don’t seem to rank as highly on the retribution-ometer.

    Frankly, I don’t know what to do with this type of passage….with this violence and injustice. Perhaps someone reading this can help me with this.

    When I wrote the paper, I compared it with the stance of Ezekiel 18.

    I like this chapter so much more! God emphatically denounces intergenerational punishment (14-19), and those who repent will not face retribution. (27-29). “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (32)

    In the paper, I came to the conclusion that over time, our understanding evolves as we continue to search for God. The Israelites were in a different place, the days of the kingdom of David and Solomon were long gone. They have been driven out of the promised land and their homes by the Babylonians. I can’t imagine the despair someone must feel in that situation. They must have been desperate for hope and that in such tumultuous times, their God has not abandoned them.

    In the Gospel we meet a woman who has committed sin. Luke never says what her sin was but she was upset enough to enter the Pharisee’s house and weep at Jesus’s feet and hopeful enough to kiss and anoint them with oil. “Her love leads her to forgiveness”

    Perhaps then the Church should have included more of 2 Samuel 12 in the first reading…to further illustrate how radical and wonderful Jesus’s reaction is.

  2. To the moderator…

    Would it possible to insert at the start of my previous comment

    “I really like your post and I find it very appropriate to spend this week reflecting on forgiveness and repentance. Over the weekend, however, I found myself struggling quite a bit at the first reading. ”

    I can submit it again if that’s not possible

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