At first glance, these first and Gospel readings seem well-matched, even easy. David and Simon have mis-stepped seriously in terms of what they supposed (sincerely or not) was acceptable behavior, specifically here in the treatment of women. Each is admonished strongly by a powerful prophet-like speaker, and we can see what would have been better. But further study suggests it is not quite so straightforward. David’s reprimand from God via Nathan suggests that his basic error was in not asking directly for what he wanted: Had you wanted more than you had, I would have provided it: women, power, and so forth. And Jesus speaks to Simon about the woman and seems not to avert to her at all. So these are not moral etiquette models, to be imitated by those who would be nicer to women than were Simon and David, or even Jesus!
In each case, the “prophet’s” words turn the tables in a way that is provocative, challenging. Nathan tells a parable in which the rich man sounds at least as much like God as like David. What can that mean? And Jesus inverts the logic of his instruction as well, saying not that she is forgiven a big sin because she was finally deserving of it, but that her great love occasioned her being forgiven. I can almost hear David saying, “But I do love Bathsheba a lot!” Whatever is preached needs to account for these unexpected language dynamics. If the prophets are not simply rebuking bad behavior, what else are they doing? Here David’s longer story helps us, since David is drawn consistently as being attached to God, whether sinning or not. I’d like to think that of Simon as well, since being a Pharisee ought not to exclude that his motivation is authentic and relational. Big love, deep relationship is the base of what is required for each of these sinful men to get into the forgiveness game, both receiving and offering it. Same for us. Before our sins can be dealt with, we had better be deep lovers. The nigh-invisible family of the adopted lamb (or perhaps their parabolic referent) and Simon’s extra silent guest become focal for us, surprisingly so, given their ostensibly cameo status in these readings.
Barbara Green, O.P.