Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast, unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner."
Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "Speak." "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt."
Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
We are all called to minister to others, whether as priests and sisters, as teachers, nurses and counselors, or simply as kindly relatives and good neighbours. There is no single way, responding to the needs of others, but today's readings call attention to different ways of ministry. Paul describes his own keen sense of vocation: "I handed on to you first of all what I myself received" and summarizes his message that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again.
In preaching this message about Jesus, he is conscious those whom Christ placed in leadership roles: first Peter and then the Twelve and James who led the Jewish Christians, and finally Paul himself. Christian ministry is based on believing in Jesus' death and resurrection and within the visible community of the church. This sense of unity is helped by Paul's admission that he is the least of the apostles, hardly deserving that very name." We minister to one another in a similarly humble spirit, not lording it over others but counting it a privelege to serve them.
In the Gospel we see Jesus being stern with the proud and the self-righteous, but tender and protective with the humble and repentant. He bases this on his sense that his Father is ever loving and forgiving, as shown in the parable of the two debtors. In this story, the person with heavier debts of sin seems to be loved more by God than the other person with smaller debts. This trait of God can seem unjust until we remember that arrogant pride is a greater sin than excess of sexual libido. At first glance the woman, a public sinner in the town, must be the one who owes the five hundred coins, and the Pharisee the small debtor who owes only fifty coins. There is still hope for the proud, if the woman can be forgiven this easily. We should minister to each another in this spirit, showing encouragement to the young, loving concern to the repentant, and firmness in the face of the proud and self-righteous.
What a contrast between how Simon the Pharisees, Jesus' host, relates to him and how an uninvited guest, a woman with a reputation as a sinner, relates to him. Simon relates to Jesus in a cold, somewhat distant, way, omitting the usual expressions of hospitality in that culture, the washing of the guests" feet, the welcome kiss. The woman supplied all these expressions of hospitality to an extravagant degree, washing his feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair and covering them with kisses. The little parable that Jesus speaks to Simon about the two debtors explains the vast gulf between the woman's response to Jesus and Simon's response. The woman loves much because she has been forgiven much; she had earlier received the gift of God's forgiveness from Jesus. Simon loves little because he has been forgiven little; he has little or no sense of his need of forgiveness. The gospel reading suggests that we give out of what we have received. If we allow ourselves to be touched by God's forgiving love, present in Jesus, then we will be loving people. If we think of ourselves as better than we are and do not come before the Lord in our poverty, asking his mercy, then our lives will not display that joyful and generous love that so characterized the life of Jesus himself. If it is in giving to others that we receive, it is equally true that it is in receiving from the Lord that we are empowered to give.