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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Luke 7:37–8:3. Cf. Mat. 26:7. Mark 14:3. John 11:2 and 12:3]

IN those days a Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to a banquet (Fig. 74). Jesus went into the house and sat down to table. Now there was in the city a woman called Mary Magdalen, who, having been a great sinner, had recently been converted by the preaching of Jesus. When she heard that our Lord was in the house of Simon, she resolved to honour her Divine Benefactor.

She brought an alabaster-box of precious ointment, entered the house, passed through the dining-room unmindful of the guests, fell down before our Lord without speaking a word, and, breaking the vase, she poured the ointment on His feet. Then, filled with repentance, she began to kiss His feet, and to wash them with her tears, and to wipe them with the hair of her head. And Jesus was pleased.

Now Simon, seeing this, spoke within himself: “This man, if He were a prophet, would surely know who and what kind of woman this is who toucheth Him, that she is a sinner.” Jesus, reading his thoughts, said to him: “Simon, I have something to say to thee.” But he answered: “Master, say it.” Then our Lord said: “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed him five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And whereas they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which, therefore, of the two, loveth his master most?” Simon replied: “I suppose that he to whom he forgave most.” Jesus answered: “Thou hast judged rightly.”

 

Fig. 74. Roman Banquet. Wall-painting from Pompeii. (After Niccolini.)

Then, pointing to the woman, He said: “Dost thou see this woman? I entered into thy house; thou gavest Me no water for My feet; but she hath washed My feet with tears, and dried them with her hair. Thou gavest Me no kiss; but she, since she came in, hath not ceased to kiss My feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but she with ointment hath anointed My feet. Wherefore, I say to thee, many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less.”

Then turning to Magdalen, He said: “Thy sins are forgiven thee. Thy faith hath made thee safe. Go in peace.”

The Divinity of our Lord. In this story our Lord manifested His Divinity in several ways. He showed His Omniscience by His knowledge of Simon’s secret thoughts, and of the loving repentance of the poor sinner. He is the creditor to whom all sinners owe a debt, which none of us are able to pay, and from which we can only beg Him to release us. He is the Holy God whom our sins offend, and He forgives us by His own power, which only God can do.

The Compassion of Jesus. He also manifested Himself as the gentle and merciful Redeemer who came not to judge but to save, and who does not thrust sinners from Him, but draws them to Him by His grace, and pardons those who are contrite. He did not reproach the penitent woman; He defended her against the harsh judgment of the Pharisee, praised her works of penance, and by His words of absolution poured balm into her wounded heart.

A model of penance. Magdalen is a model of a true penitent by her conversion, contrition, confession, satisfaction and perseverance. She was a woman given over to the vanities and pleasures of this world, who led an evil and frivolous life. She heard of our Lord’s miracles; and, full of curiosity, she joined the crowd which followed Him, in order to see and hear Him. She saw the wonderful cure of the leper; she gazed on our Lord’s countenance, and her heart was touched; she heard His words: “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” and she opened her heart to His words. She listened to the Sermon on the Mount; she saw what real goodness meant, and she saw the depth of her own wickedness. The reproaches of her conscience became stronger, and her fear of the judgment greater. She believed in Jesus, and she longed for pardon. She had heard how He had forgiven the sins of the palsied man; she knew that He could forgive her sins as well, and she hoped that He would. As she prayed and thought over the words of Jesus, and the miserable condition of her own soul, there grew within her a greater horror of sin, and a love for our Lord which was full of hope. At last, she found the long waited-for opportunity to approach the Holy One, and open her heart to Him. But when she stood before Him, she could utter no word; and then, sobbing, she fell at His Feet and bathed them with her tears. She had loosened her beautiful hair, her cherished adornment, and with it she wiped our Lord’s Feet. She broke her vase, and poured the precious ointment over them, to testify her veneration and love. She abased herself as far as she could, and did penance in public, because it was in public that she had sinned. “Her heart was so full of inward shame, that she minded not the outward shame in the eyes of men” (St. Gregory). Her tears were her confession; her abasement and service of love were her satisfaction. Magdalen was converted and renounced for ever the vanities of the world. We shall find her at the foot of the Cross, and at the feet of the risen Lord. She did severe penance to the end of her life, and is venerated by the Church as a great Saint.

Faith is, as we see in the case of Magdalen, the root of justification. Our Lord therefore said to her: “Thy faith hath made thee safe”; because from her faith had proceeded perfect contrition.

Love and the forgiveness of sin. Many sins were forgiven to this woman, because she loved much (for perfect contrition proceeds from perfect love); and after she had received forgiveness of her sins, she loved in proportion to the amount of forgiveness she had received. How could it be otherwise? If any one wishes to receive pardon of God for the sins which he has committed, the first thing he must do is, by the help of God, to conceive a hatred of his sins, and he must make, at least, an attempt to return to God, or, in other words, to love God. Thus, with even the most imperfect contrition there must be united some spark of the love of God. But it is only when a sinner’s heart turns with perfect love to God, that He will impart to him the grace of justification and sanctification. This grace of justification enables man to love God still more. Thus love is, at the same time, the cause and the effect of the forgiveness of sins.

The Pharisee’s pride and hardness of heart. It is a great and noble thing to repent of and acknowledge our sins. The proud Pharisee, however, despised the penitent woman, and was unmoved by her tears of contrition. And because Jesus showed Himself to be a true Saviour, and had compassion on the penitent sinner, Simon refused to believe in Him. Thus, even the divine love and compassion of Jesus served as a pretext for unbelief.

APPLICATION. Magdalen was not ashamed to do public penance, and in the midst of a joyous banquet to come forward as a penitent sinner. And yet are not you ashamed to own your sins in secret to God’s representative, who is bound to silence, and make a good and sincere confession? Where is your contrition? You should say with St. Alphonsus: “Oh that I could weep for ever to think that I could have sinned against Thee, O God—to think that I should be faithless and ungrateful—to think that I should be a traitor!”








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