Jesus always sees things as they really are; we don't. We generally see things as we are. We pick and choose the bits of reality we are going to allow to remain on our horizons, the rest we just discard, or ignore, or deny. And so we live our lives from day to day with a distorted and incomplete knowledge of ourselves, of others and, of God.
A symptom of this blindness is the tendency to use labels. Labels then become for us a kind of simplified reality, Reality For Dummies: she's a prostitute, he's a prophet, I'm a Righteous Pharisee. This tendency takes a few facts and builds them into a worldview which simplifies life, but it cannot know the truth.
King David had a very interesting visit from the prophet Nathan who told him a story. A rich man with many sheep slaughtered the only lamb of a poor neighbour in order to feed a guest. David was outraged and loudly condemned the rich man to all sorts of punishment. Nathan took the wind out of David’s sails by revealing to him that he, David, was, in fact, the rich man: You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, taken his wife for your own, and killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. (2Sam 12:9)
King David was, to use the vernacular, sprung, and sprung bad. What Nathan had done was tear away the veil that prevented the king from seeing things as they truly were. David was dragged into a fullness of reality to which he had been blind and immediately, and wonderfully, hung his head in shame and exclaimed: I have sinned against the Lord.
It was this fullness of repentance from King David which so pleased the Lord. His sin was real and terrible, there was no denying that, but his humility and repentance before God was truly admirable.
How I wish that those Catholics who tell me they don’t feel worthy to go to Church anymore because of their sins would learn the lesson King David learned and which, indeed, St Peter the first Pope learned. Repentance destroys sin – over and over and over and over. No one need despair, no one need give up. Every time there is sin (and I do mean every time), there is the possibility of repentance, and God always welcomes and always forgives. He never grows tired of forgiving and amply blesses the sinner who has faith in this mercy of the Master. As Jesus told St Faustina, 'The bigger the sinner, the more right he has to my mercy.'
Jesus always sees things as they really are.
Jesus knew them all and did not trust himself to them; he never needed evidence about any man; he could tell what a man had in him. (John 2:24-25)
I guess this is why some people found him seriously challenging, even intolerable. Some deserted him because he spoke of realities too far beyond them. Some tore their robes and some blocked their ears. Others crucified him.
Simon the Pharisee was probably not aware that his beloved image of himself was about to change when he invited the Lord to dine with him. The woman who ministered to him was a known sinner. It scandalised Simon to see her touching the Lord, weeping over his feet and drying them with her hair. All Simon could see was the fact that she was a woman of ill repute, but Jesus could see the truth.
Simon was very fond of another label which we should not overlook – good name. The woman had a bad name and Simon believed he had a good name and that Jesus should have a good name too. Jesus, however, either didn’t care for his good name or didn’t know what kind of name the woman had.
- Do you see how simplistic and unjust this kind of thinking is?
- Would you say it is still common?
- Would you say that you are occasionally guilty of it?
Very gently and with great discretion Jesus leads Simon into the reality behind the labels. He speaks to Simon of indebtedness, of sin (many sins), of forgiveness, of faith, of great love. He is inviting Simon to let go of his labels, the facts, and to see what Jesus is looking at, the truth.
We don’t know how Simon responded. Was he touched or did he withdraw like a snail into his shell? We do know one thing: Those who were with him at table began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this man…?’ Labels ask the question ‘What?’ What is this woman? What is this man? The truth asks ‘Who?’ Who is this woman? Who is this man?
The same Jesus who was present at the banquet will be present today at ours. He will look at each one of us. He will know us intimately. He will know our souls. Nothing will be hidden from his gaze and his gaze will be full of mercy. That same mercy he sought in Simon the Pharisee but he didn’t find it. Let him find it in us.