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.