VATICAN CITY — In his continuing catechesis for the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis today considered the Gospel episode of Jesus’ dinner at the home of Simon the Pharisee.
In this account, the pope explained, St. Luke tells us that a woman known as a sinner came up to Jesus, bathed his feet in her tears and anointed them with precious perfume. The Pharisee, judging by appearances, is taken aback that Jesus is not afraid of contact with sinners.
The Lord distinguishes between the sin and the sinner, he said. He teaches Simon that the woman’s act, as an expression of faith and trust in God’s mercy has merited the forgiveness of her sins.
The story of the sinful woman reminds us that God’s mercy reaches out to everyone, Pope Francis said. It overcomes prejudice and surmounts all barriers.
Through faith in Christ, he said, we too have received the forgiveness of our sins and the new life of grace. Having experienced this mystery of redeeming love, may we grow in gratitude for so great a gift, and in turn become witnesses and channels of that love in our families, our communities and our world.
Here below we publish a full English translation of the Pope’s catechesis.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Today we wish to consider an aspect of mercy which is aptly portrayed by the passage from Luke’s Gospel we have heard (Lk 7:36-50). It is an episode which happened to Jesus while he was the guest of a Pharisee named Simon. He wanted to invite Jesus to his home because he had heard him spoken well of, as a great prophet. While they were seated at dinner, a woman known to all in the city as a sinner entered. Without saying a word, she placed herself at Jesus’ feet and burst into tears. Her tears bathed the feet of Jesus, and she dried them with her hair; then she kissed them and anointed them with the perfumed oil she had brought with her.
The contrast between two figures stands out: Simon, the zealous servant of the law; and the anonymous woman, who is a sinner. While the first judges others based on appearances, the second by her gestures sincerely expresses her heart. Simon, despite having invited Jesus, does not want to compromise himself or involve his life with the Teacher. The woman, by contrast, entrusts herself entirely to Him with love and veneration.
The Pharisee cannot imagine how Jesus could let himself be “contaminated” by sinners. He thinks that, if he were really a prophet, he would recognize them and keep them away to avoid being stained, as though they were lepers. This attitude is typical of a certain way of understanding religion and is motivated by the fact that God and sin are radically opposed. But the Word of God teaches us to distinguish between the sin and the sinner: We should not compromise with sin, while, as sinners — that is, all of us — we are like those who are sick and need to be healed; and to be healed, they need the doctor to come to them, to visit them, to touch them. And naturally the one who is sick, in order to be cured, must recognize that he needs the doctor.
Between the Pharisee and the sinful woman, Jesus sides with the latter. Jesus, free from the prejudices that prevent mercy from being expressed, allows her to do it. He, the Holy One of God, allows himself to be touched by her without fear of being contaminated. Jesus is free, because he is close to God who is a merciful Father. And this closeness to God, the merciful Father, gives Jesus freedom. Indeed, by entering into relationship with the sinful woman, Jesus puts an end to that state of isolation to which the merciless judge of the Pharisee and his fellow citizens — who were exploiting her — condemned her: “Your sins are forgiven” (v. 48).
The woman can now therefore go “in peace.” The Lord saw the sincerity of her faith and her conversion. Therefore, in front of everyone he declares: “Your faith has saved you” (v. 50). On the one hand, the hypocrisy of the doctor of the law; on the other, sincerity, humility and the faith of the woman. We are all sinners, but so often we fall into the temptation of hypocrisy, of believing that we are better than others, and we say: “Look at your sin…”. We all need to look instead at our own sin, our falls, our mistakes, and look to the Lord. This is the line of salvation: the relationship between “me” the sinner and the Lord. If I consider myself to be righteous, this relationship of salvation is not granted.
At this point, an even greater amazement falls on all those at table: “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” (v.49). Jesus does not give an explicit answer, but the conversion of the sinful women stands before everyone’s eyes and shows that in Him shines forth the power of God’s mercy, capable of transforming hearts.
The sinful woman teaches us the link between faith, love and gratitude. Her “many sins” were forgive her and therefore she loves much, “but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (v. 47). Even Simon has to admit that the one who has been forgiven more, loves more. God has enclosed everyone in the mystery of mercy; and from this love, which always goes before us, all of us learn to love. As St. Paul reminds us: “In Christ, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he has lavished upon us” (Eph. 1:7-8). In this text, the word “grace” is practically synonymous with mercy, and is called “lavish,” that is, beyond our expectations, for it carries out God’s saving plan for each of us.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us be grateful for the gift of faith. Let us thank the Lord for so great and unmerited a love. Let us allow Christ’s love to be poured out into us: the disciple draws from and is grounded in this love; and on this love everyone can be nourished and fed. In this way, in the grateful love that we, in turn, pour out on our brothers and sisters, in our home, on our family, and in society, we communicate the Lord’s mercy to everyone.
Translation by Diane Montagnaof Aleteia’s English edition.