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Bible Reflections View Comments

Pushing the Boundaries
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, June 16, 2013
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For Holy Thursday this year, newly elected Pope Francis announced his decision to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a juvenile correctional facility, where he washed the feet of twelve young offenders: male and female, black and white, Christian and Muslim. He emphasized again and again that this action was a sign of humility and service, a reminder of Christ’s example. Above all, he wanted to convey to these young people (and through his actions, to us) the importance of mercy and of hope.

Many people were shocked by this departure from tradition by the pope. Some went so far as to call it a bad example for a pope to set. Others were delighted at the pope’s willingness to reach beyond categories and expectations. His behavior certainly wasn’t without precedent.

In our Gospel for this Sunday, we hear of the woman who was a known sinner in the town lavishing both perfume and affection on Jesus. She had no need to hide the sins in her past because she knew the grace and forgiveness of God’s greater love. People in the town saw only her sin. Jesus saw beyond the sin to a potential for healing and redemption.

Simon the Pharisee, in whose house this display took place, was shocked, dismayed, and disapproving. He saw only what he wanted to see. He didn’t see his own failure to provide basic hospitality to his guest. He didn’t see how much he was reserving judgment on Jesus until he was sure he was backing the right man. That kind of caution is not always a virtue.

Part of the problem that some of the Pharisees had was that they had come to believe in their own reputation for perfection. Our first reading reminds us of the dangers of that attitude.

David was the greatest king in Israel’s history. He was a celebrity par excellence. And, like so many of the celebrities in our own time, he had flaws that could not remain hidden forever. The Scriptures hold up David as a model not only of leadership but of penitence. How sincere he was in his sorrow is for God, not us, to judge. But we can learn an important lesson from the scene in today’s first reading.

Today’s first reading outlines David’s notorious sin of committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband killed through a military ruse. David admits to his sin and receives God’s forgiveness through Nathan.

Too often we do everything we can to avoid admitting our sins, even our mistakes. We blame other people. We make excuses. We find ways to justify our actions. We have come to believe that the appearance of perfection is more important than honesty and integrity. Looking good has become more important than doing the right thing. It’s become nearly impossible for people to say, “I was wrong. I made a mistake. I sinned.” It’s easy to talk about the bad thing someone else has done. It’s much more difficult to admit personal responsibility.

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone sins. There’s no real shame in that. Jesus came to show us that not having the courage to admit our mistakes and move on is the greater fault. His example, held up to us again by Pope Francis, challenges us to move beyond the boundaries of decorum to the wonder of unbounded grace.


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Peter and Paul: 
		<strong>Peter (d. 64?)</strong>. St. Mark ends the first half of his Gospel with a triumphant climax. He has recorded doubt, misunderstanding and the opposition of many to Jesus. Now Peter makes his great confession of faith: "You are the Messiah" (Mark 8:29b). It was one of the many glorious moments in Peter's life, beginning with the day he was called from his nets along the Sea of Galilee to become a fisher of men for Jesus. 
<p>The New Testament clearly shows Peter as the leader of the apostles, chosen by Jesus to have a special relationship with him. With James and John he was privileged to witness the Transfiguration, the raising of a dead child to life and the agony in Gethsemane. His mother-in-law was cured by Jesus. He was sent with John to prepare for the last Passover before Jesus' death. His name is first on every list of apostles. </p><p>And to Peter only did Jesus say, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:17b-19). </p><p>But the Gospels prove their own trustworthiness by the unflattering details they include about Peter. He clearly had no public relations person. It is a great comfort for ordinary mortals to know that Peter also has his human weakness, even in the presence of Jesus. </p><p>He generously gave up all things, yet he can ask in childish self-regard, "What are we going to get for all this?" (see Matthew 19:27). He receives the full force of Christ's anger when he objects to the idea of a suffering Messiah: "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do" (Matthew 16:23b). </p><p>Peter is willing to accept Jesus' doctrine of forgiveness, but suggests a limit of seven times. He walks on the water in faith, but sinks in doubt. He refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, then wants his whole body cleansed. He swears at the Last Supper that he will never deny Jesus, and then swears to a servant maid that he has never known the man. He loyally resists the first attempt to arrest Jesus by cutting off Malchus's ear, but in the end he runs away with the others. In the depth of his sorrow, Jesus looks on him and forgives him, and he goes out and sheds bitter tears. The Risen Jesus told Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep (John 21:15-17). </p><p><strong>Paul (d. 64?)</strong>. If the most well-known preacher today suddenly began preaching that the United States should adopt Marxism and not rely on the Constitution, the angry reaction would help us understand Paul's life when he started preaching that Christ alone can save us. He had been the most Pharisaic of Pharisees, the most legalistic of Mosaic lawyers. Now he suddenly appears to other Jews as a heretical welcomer of Gentiles, a traitor and apostate. </p><p>Paul's central conviction was simple and absolute: Only God can save humanity. No human effort—even the most scrupulous observance of law—can create a human good which we can bring to God as reparation for sin and payment for grace. To be saved from itself, from sin, from the devil and from death, humanity must open itself completely to the saving power of Jesus. </p><p>Paul never lost his love for his Jewish family, though he carried on a lifelong debate with them about the uselessness of the Law without Christ. He reminded the Gentiles that they were grafted on the parent stock of the Jews, who were still God's chosen people, the children of the promise. </p><p>In light of his preaching and teaching skills, Paul's name has surfaced (among others) as a possible patron of the Internet.</p> American Catholic Blog The way of the cross is unavoidably uphill. Christians don’t get to carry their cross downhill. Suffering has always been inextricably linked with Christianity, but those who carry their cross willingly in these times can serve as an example and inspiration to all of us.

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