Today, we are going to do something a little different.
Usually in a homily, we like to focus in on the gospel reading. And, of course, that is fitting because it is the story of Jesus.
However, today’s second reading is so full of meaning and so central to our understanding of our salvation that we can learn alot from unpacking it and applying it to our lives.
Saint Paul begins this passage by telling the Galatians: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” What does he mean?
The word “justification” is a legal term. In our courts, if a person is found innocent of a crime, the jury or judge declare him to be “not guilty.” However, in Saint Paul’s time, a person acquitted of a crime was declared to be “just” or “righteous”. The act of declaring someone to be “just” was called “justification.”
What Saint Paul is saying, then, is that we are justified or found to be innocent in God’s eyes by our faith in Jesus Christ. In particular, it is centered on our belief that He died for our sins. By dying on the cross, Jesus took upon Himself our guilt and the punishment we deserved so that we could be declared to be “not guilty” before the Father.
This is central to our faith. Our salvation is a pure gift from God. There is nothing we could do to earn it. No one is so good that he or she could deserve to be forgiven. We are declared “not guilty” because Jesus died for our sins. When we believe that, then we find justification in the eyes of God. As Saint Paul tells us: “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”
Too many times, we do not accept the justification that comes from God but rather try to justify ourselves. We say to ourselves that our sins are really not that bad. We might compare ourselves to others, as the Pharisee in the gospel does to the sinful woman, and think we cannot be so bad when there are so many other people worse than we are. However, when we do that, we are only making excuses for ourselves. By not taking responsibility for our sinful thoughts and actions, we are missing out on the opportunity to ask for forgiveness and experience God’s mercy. God cannot forgive us if we are making excuses for our sins. He can only pardon us when we take responsibility for what we have done or failed to do and ask for forgiveness.
The other trap we can fall into is thinking that we can earn God’s love and mercy by doing good. We think that by donating to worthy causes, volunteering, praying and sacrificing God will somehow take notice of us. But the fact is that God is already willing to forgive us. He already takes note of us and loves us unconditionally. He does not love us because of the good works we perform but because He made us to be very good. He loves us because He is good. Therefore, while it is important that we perform good works to help others, our justification ultimately comes from the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross. That is the foundation of our hope for salvation. Nothing else can replace it.
Father Mitch Pacwa from EWTN, the Catholic television network, gives an example that helps us to see why Jesus’ death on the cross is so important for our salvation. The seriousness of our actions concern not only what we do but whom we commit them against. For instance, if I were to punch an ordinary man in the street, I might get arrested, but it would not be a serious offense. However, if I were to punch the president or the Pope, I would be facing some serious jail time. It is the same when we consider God. Every sin is an offense against God. Every evil act is a rejection of His goodness and love. Therefore, there is really no such thing as a small sin because, like a violent act against the president or the Pope, it is directed against God Himself. Because our Heavenly Father is infinitely good and we are finite and sinful, there is nothing we can do, nothing we can offer, that can make up for our sin. However, Jesus, the Son of God, is also infinitely good. Therefore, when He offers Himself up for us, being totally innocent, He can cancel out our sins. Without that offering of Jesus, there would be no hope for us.
Each of us, then, is a great sinner because the One we have sinned against is an infinitely good God. No matter how insignificant our sins may seem, they are great because they offend our All-Loving Father. However, there is a great opportunity for us when we recognize our sinfulness and seek our justification through faith. We then can experience God’s loving mercy. As Jesus tells the Pharisee in today’s gospel, “The one who is forgiven much, loves much.”
Our salvation and all the riches of our faith are a gift from God. They are our inheritance as children of God made righteous through faith and baptism. We lay claim to them and come to this banquet like the woman in the gospel pouring out our love and gratitude to our Heavenly Father so that we can hear the words, “Go in peace; your faith has saved you.”