Repentance – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 7:30-33; Thursday of Week 24 in Ordinary Time

harlot

Here she was, the public sinner, the prostitute, the harlot who worked nights because only darkness was her friend. But here she came, this time in broad daylight, barging into a very civilized home at a very civilized time when civilized people gathered for a meal. There was no lurking this time. No, she was larger than life without her meaning to be, and crying her eyes out. And she finally slumped to the ground towards Jesus’ feet for all the world to see. Here she was, “out of the closet”, with absolutely nothing to hide. Oh, the lengths the Pharisee would have to go through to purify his house now duly contaminated by this, this dreg of humanity the devil dragged in! For nothing revolted religious men more than a dirty woman invading the men’s club, who, with emotional theatrics, spilled her bodily liquids onto a stranger’s feet! Was this what she did behind closed doors? Disgusting!

But you and I know today that holiness had very little to do with the scoff and scorn of the men. It was fear. Then and now, nothing scares the dickens out of self-righteous men more than a woman exposing the ugly truths about herself. No self-respecting macho man would admit to that fear, though. So, the men feigned revulsion. To avoid being impure, many of them might have bolted for the door, especially her clients amongst them. The prostitute crying in broad daylight made men want to scurry away to the nearest, darkest crevice. They knew her as much as they knew themselves. But short of that, they feigned revulsion. “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”

Nothing unsettled Jesus more than men waxing self-righteous against repentant sinners like this prostitute. Even before the advent of systematic psychology, Jesus of Nazareth knew that when men protested immorality too loudly, they were likely masquerading their own depravities. On that day when the village harlot came and openly cried her need for forgiveness, she tore the men’s robes open and exposed them…without even meaning to.

You know, sisters and brothers, that was around 2,000 years ago. Thank God, the way we look at sin and impurity and immorality today has grown by leaps and bounds from then. But we still have a long, long way to go, though, in how we think of sin and sinners, in what we think is sinful, and most of all, in how we regard sinners who repent. For the most part, we still gravitate to the sin, the sin, the sin, even in the presence of clear remorse and tearful repentance. It has happened to me, to people I know, to both priests and politicians, popes and presidents, madres and Mother Butlers, matrons and manangs, that when we harbor unresolved guilt over our own sins of defilement and lust and covetousness—which may not take the form of sex, by the way—we often mask that guilt with vociferous self-righteousness, lest we’re exposed. But people who continue to painfully accept their deepest, darkest depravities, and continue to struggle against them—sometimes winning, sometimes losing—they’re the ones who often have an easier time “compassioning” with repentant sinners. They’re the ones who’re often more Christ-like.

I don’t know if people in that house still had the appetite to finish their meal after Jesus said, “So I tell you, her sins have been forgiven, that’s why she has shown great love!” Because that was really another way of saying, “You, self-righteous men, you judge as though you’ve never sinned at all! That’s why you’ve never felt what it means to be forgiven, which is why you’ve never known what it means to love and be loved. And where there is no love, there is no God.”

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