All in Balance
The Cancelled Debt of Both Saints and Sinners
To many, one of Jesus' most maddening habits was the welcome He gave to sinners.
Remember how Jesus was at the home of Simon, a Pharisee, when a woman — a known sinner — crept up behind Him and began to bathe His feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Simon was more than surprised: He was disappointed in Jesus, who was supposed to know better than to let a strange woman touch Him, let alone an impure woman whose character Jesus would know— and scorn — if He were truly a prophet.
Simon doubted Jesus' authenticity because He seemed not to be able to discern this woman's sinfulness, and yet Jesus' response showed that He knew not only what was in the woman's heart but everything that was in Simon's heart as well:
"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said. "Do you see this woman? ... I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little" (Lk 7:41-47).
Listening to this gospel I started to wonder, are we to understand that the debtor who owed the lesser amount in the parable loved the moneylender less than his fellow debtor? If that's the case, then it seems that the person who doesn't have as many or as heavy stains on her soul must love God less than a great sinner does.
That doesn't fit what we know about St. Faustina, whom Jesus called "My delight ... the comfort of My heart" (Diary, 164) and whose love for God consumed her. And what about Therese of Lisieux, whose confessor assured her she had never committed a mortal sin? She made it her life's mission "to love Jesus unto folly" (Story of a Soul, 178). What about Mary, who never bore the burden of even the smallest sin? She loves God more perfectly than any other creature.
When I reread the gospel, I realized that Jesus held up the woman's love as the evidence, not the cause, of the forgiveness God had offered her. After all, the debtor loves the moneylender because the debt was canceled. Love doesn't earn mercy; mercy inspires love. Or as St. Pope John Paul II said, mercy is love's second name. Because God is mercy itself, someone who loves God has known His mercy; we can't love what we don't know. Faustina, Therese, and the Blessed Virgin must have experienced God's mercy, perhaps differently than the repentant mortal sinner but just as — or even more — powerfully.
In "The Truth About Mary," a talk produced by the Mary Foundation, Patrick Madrid and Marcus Grodi explain it this way. Someone travels through a jungle where a hungry tiger waits in a hidden pit, and the traveler falls into the pit, but God pulls him out before he is eaten. That person will love God for saving him. Another person walks through the same jungle, but God prevents her from falling into the pit at all. She sees the pit and knows what she has been saved from, so she loves God just as much as the person who was pulled out.
Faustina, Therese, and Mary knew what they would be without grace, and so they loved the God whose mercy saved them from falling into the pit. Therese filled her autobiography with rapturous gratitude for God's constant protection of her innocence. Faustina sounded very much like the woman in the gospel when she wrote in her Diary, "I went before the Blessed Sacrament and, like the greatest and most miserable of wretches, I begged for His mercy that He might heal and purify my poor soul" (Diary, 178).
And just as He comforted the sinful woman in the gospel with the promise of forgiveness, Jesus put Faustina at peace with the assurance of purity: "My daughter, all your miseries have been consumed in the flame of My love, like a little twig thrown into a roaring fire" (Diary, 178). And we all know Mary's hymn to "[her] Savior ... the Mighty One" who did "great things for [her]" (Lk 1:47, 49). If we remember that Lucifer was the fairest one in heaven before he fell, we can imagine what these women would have been without God, and we join them in praising Him.
When we think of mercy, forgiveness for wrongdoing probably comes to mind first. But God's mercy acts in souls in many ways. If we refrain from sin, that is mercy. If we practice charity, that is mercy. If we pray, that is mercy. Our very awareness of the difference between sin and virtue is mercy. And no matter the form in which we encounter this mercy, we can learn from the woman in the gospel, saints like Faustina and Therese, and the Blessed Virgin that the only logical response is love.
Saints know they are sinners, but they also know God's love is greater than all sin, so they place their hope in Him. This is what purity is all about — keeping one's eyes, mind, and heart on the all-pure God. Mother Mary most pure, help us to be as pure as you are.