Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sunday word, 17 Jun 2007

11 Sunday of the Year (17 Jun 2007) 1Sm 12. 7,10-13; Ps 32; Gal 2. 16,19-21; Lk 7. 36-8. 3
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

The Faith of Jesus

Two notes sound forcefully in today’s scriptures: forgiveness and faith. David, the greatest human king of Israel, sinned greatly. The Lord forgave him because of his sincere faith. The gospel fulfilled that scene. A woman, who was known to be a sinner, received Jesus’ forgiveness because her great love fueled her faith. Jesus recognized it: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Whence came her faith?

St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians declared that people are established in right relationship with God not by external observation of commandments but by response of faith. Their response is in synch with commandments and with ways that are true, gentle, humble and wise.

This was Jesus’ human response to God. Faith gives God claim over us and all creation, seeing God’s claim as life-giving even when we cannot control it, as creative even when all evidence suggests it is not. Jesus responded to God in those ways. Jesus fulfilled and revealed that to which commandments began to point a way: right relationship with God and with others. We use the commandments to help us practice our faith.

St. Paul had great reverence for the commandments and all they embodied. Anyone who would think that after his encounter with the risen Messiah, Paul trashed the commandments and all they embodied sorely misunderstands St. Paul. St. Paul did not trash them. He realized their limits: pointing the way is not the same as the way; nor do pointers to the truth reveal the whole truth.

Jesus’ revealed the whole truth. The witness of Jesus was his constant response to God as the giver of life, the healer of souls and the source of strength in every trial. That response was Jesus’ own faith. The faith of Jesus was the source of that sinful woman’s faith, which fueled her great and tender love toward Jesus, so evident in her tears, her wordless washing and wiping dry his feet.

The faith of Jesus allows us to be people of faith. We direct our faith to Jesus, we place it in Jesus because Jesus and his own faith, his human response to God, models our response to God, namely our faith.

The faith of Jesus, his human response to God, attracted that woman, who washed and dried his feet with her tears. The faith of Jesus drew the Twelve to him. The faith of Jesus drew the women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities to Jesus. Those women were not anonymous, Luke named them. That Luke did not name the woman, who washed and dried his feet with her tears, allows her to represent each one of us, whose names and lives are so dear to Jesus, our Creator and Model of faith.

Jesus modeled human response of loving fidelity to God. Faith names our response. Christian faith imitates Jesus’ response, his human response to God, the faith of Jesus. Christian faith is a verb: responding to God through Jesus by their Spirit. The woman who stands for each of us was deeply moved and drawn to Jesus. She received peace and forgiveness and lived an astonishing new life. We, too, welcome Jesus, our life, who has loved [us] and given himself up for [us].

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, begin to allow yourself to be more aware of the Trinity desiring you to enjoy a share in divine life even as you now live in the flesh. Bask in their gift you. Then ask the woman who loved much to present you to Jesus. Speak to Jesus in your own words about your desire to respond more sincerely to your Creator and Messiah. Ask Jesus to strengthen your commitment to imitate his faith, his human response to God. Resolve to live as one saved by your faith-response, asking Jesus to be your Model and your shelter when life seems too much. End your time by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, the manner in which Jesus practiced his faith. Resolve to make Jesus’ prayer your way of proceeding through whatever hours remain in your day, so that your choices and even your presence will offer Jesus’ peace to others.
The faith of Jesus, namely Jesus' own faith, best translates St. Paul's Greek phrase five times in his letters, one of them here in this chapter of his Letter to the Galatians. While translators usually give it only one sense, faith in Jesus, the Greek language allows both senses. We have this in English, too: the story of her, for example, can mean either her story or a story about her. The context reveals which one to the careful listener or reader.

St. Paul, was very comfortable with the sense faith in Christ when he spoke about the confessional nature of Christian faith, as in we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the holy ones (Colossians 1.4).

I am indebted to my teacher of New Testament Interpretation, Luke Timothy Johnson, who introduced me to this. It is a minority opinion, by his own admission, however, it is more persuasive than the majority opinion and more conducive to living as one of Jesus' friends. Johnson's briefest and more accessible source is his Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. Minneapolis, Fortress Press, rev. ed., 1999. pp. 332-33.
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