Miranda Warning

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” You can tell I’ve been watching a lot of crime drama lately. Whenever these words are spoken on prime time television or in the movies, it’s usually not long before the story wraps up. The chase is often finally over, or about to be over. The suspect is taken into custody, bringing a halt to any further madness and mayhem. The crime scene is secured, all forensic evidence is gathered and analyzed. And within the remaining few minutes to round out the hour, the details of the criminal plot are revealed: motive, premeditation, opportunity, accomplices. We get a glimpse of the offender’s world, and we begin to make sense of where things went horribly wrong. Order is restored once again so we can return to our calm and boring lives … at least until the next exciting episode of “Go Ahead, You Evildoers, Make My Day.”

I’m sure television and movie crime drama is all a little more exciting than the real thing. I’ve never actually been involved with anything like it up close, and I have no desire to. But it doesn’t take a genius to arrive at some pretty accurate conclusions, especially since human beings are involved. All we have to do is look back on human history to see what sort of madness and mayhem people are capable of. Make a few cultural and social adjustments, add some innovative high-tech gadgetry, some sordid moral depravity, some insanely lucrative financial incentive, some all too predictable crime partner paranoia and betrayal, some creative screenplay writing, and you have the next summer blockbuster! The rest is just casting and aggressive marketing.

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The wholesale inclusion of King David’s moral failure among the biblical accounts of God’s great and wonderful deeds on behalf of his holy people remind us that the high and mighty are not immune from the depravity of selfishness and sin. The story of David and Bathsheba reads like a steamy novel. If you want details, you will have to read up on it yourselves. Perhaps there is something beneficial we can gain from the telling of this sordid tale. The story tells us things we already know: that human beings are weak, it matters little one’s station in life; that temptation will find a way to make a heaping pile of garbage look breathtakingly attractive and desirable; that even the best of us can be deceived by our own arrogance and lust; that each of us is a baffling bundle of contradiction — capable of identifying the least bit of injustice in our neighbor while remaining completely oblivious to our own wrong-doing. The prophet Nathan only got the king to admit his own sin by making up some story to rouse him to righteous anger against someone else’s sin. So when the king passed judgment, cold and heartless as he believed the offender had acted in the prophet’s story, the prophet turned the tables. “You are the man.” Wham! He didn’t see that coming. “I anointed you king; I saved you from your enemies; I gave you power and wealth beyond measure … Why have you spurned the Lord and done evil in his sight?” Yeah, David, what’s up with that? In truth, even God wasn’t interested in his answer. Nothing he could ever say would make things right.

For a powerful and celebrated leader like King David, what happened next was truly remarkable. “I have sinned against the Lord,” said the king. And without skipping a beat, the prophet replied, “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die.” If David were to run for public office today, he would be skewered in the media. His dirty linen would be aired for all to see, the skeletons in his closet displayed and scrutinized. We suppose it’s just part of the democratic process. We want our leaders to be blameless and above reproach. And when we realize they are no better than the rest of us, we are sadly disappointed. And off we go looking to anoint a new messiah.

Yet the more important lesson of this sordid tale is not what we learn about ourselves, but rather what we learn about God. God is willing to forgive our sins. God’s forgiveness, we are told, is not something we deserve, not something we work for. It is pure grace, a generous gift from the immeasurable compassion of God’s own heart. But very often we misunderstand the meaning of God’s forgiveness. We compare it with what we understand of how human beings forgive. There is an expression that goes something like “I can forgive, but I will never forget.” I believe I can let go of the hurt when someone offends me, but I will never be able to erase it from my mind. Perhaps to forget is impossible, because forgiveness cannot be about pretending the offense never happened. Rather, forgiveness is a choice I make to let go of resentment and bitterness. I might retain the memory of the offense, if only to prevent from getting hurt again. But forgiveness is about releasing the offender from the prison of my resentment and anger and hurt. And when I set them free, I set myself free. Similarly, God does not harbor resentment or bitterness against us. It would be contrary to God’s nature. So God is always willing to forgive.

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But even God’s forgiveness has implications. As we saw in the story of the great King David, God granted forgiveness only after the man admits his own guilt. “I have sinned.” The king was saying, “I have done wrong. I should have known better. I have despised God’s law and done what is displeasing to him.” Such an admission implies a humble acknowledgement of the truth about one’s self, that the one I have offended has every right in the world to be disappointed in me, to be angry with me, to hold me in eternal and everlasting contempt. I am at the mercy entirely of the one whom I have wronged. I have no right to even ask for it; I do not deserve forgiveness.

The woman in the gospel story had a reputation in the community. Everyone knew she was a sinner; exactly why is open to interpretation. But of greater importance is that she acknowledged her sinfulness with great humility; what she did going above and beyond what was considered acceptable. Everyone else was concerned that Jesus was not more offended for being assaulted by this uninvited guest. But the way he saw it, “her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.” I suppose we wouldn’t care to show great love like she did either if we have no sins to be forgiven for, because as Jesus says it himself, “the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

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Every once in a while I am still approached in the confessional by people asking God’s forgiveness while claiming they have no sins to be forgiven for. It is the height of arrogance to presume we deserve God’s forgiveness without admitting our selfishness and sin. “You have the right to remain silent.” Unfortunately, remaining silent about our sinfulness is even more incriminating than actually admitting we have done wrong.

Rolo B. Castillo © 2013