Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Receive Us Lord, Contrite and Humble

March 17 2008

Tuesday of the Third Week in Lent

By Beth De Cristofaro

But with contrite hearts and humble spirit let us be received…Do not let us be put to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy. Deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord. (Daniel 3:39, 42-43)

Remember that your compassion, O Lord, and your kindness are from of old. In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O Lord. … Remember your mercies, O Lord. (Psalm 25:6-7)

…how often must I forgive him? ... Jesus answered, ’I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:22)

For violence I have committed mentally, For violence I have committed verbally, For violence I have committed physically, I ask forgiveness. (From: Prayers For All People, by Mary Ford-Grabowsky, Doubleday, 1995, P217)


In the white hot flames of the furnace, Azariah’s prayer starts with contrition and humility. He confesses the sins of an entire people then asks God to save three individuals. His prayer proclaims the glory and sovereignty of God while confidant also in God’s merciful forgiveness. He knows God’s compassion and kindness are from old. He knows that God’s forgiveness is ceaseless and God’s saving power is without limits.

What are the limits of our forgiveness? I have family members who have not spoken for years when a choice made by one was deemed not acceptable by another. My mother has a friend in her late 80’s who is estranged from her son, her only living relative. Do we choose to be right rather than reconciled? Do we forgive when someone makes amends according to the conditions we have set? Do we forgive when things turn out as we want? This is not what Jesus says.

St. Patrick is one who took Jesus’ words to heart. As Bishop he returned to the people who kidnapped and enslaved him to serve as guide and servant to the Irish for the rest of his life. He forgave. He became a saint for the world and brought an entire people to God.

Again and again we come across stories – in Scripture and in history – of God’s boundless, limitless love. If we are asked to bring God’s love to the world, one of the more thorny dimensions of love is forgiveness. To forgive is to step out of ourselves in order to put the other person first and to put the community of faith first. Forgiveness is so essential to building the Kingdom that Jesus gives us the image seventy-seven times. In a word, “countless” times.

Sometimes we confuse “forgive” as Jesus meant it with “forgive and forget” which is what modern culture pretends to espouse. Jesus does not mean there is not an accounting for injury. God is ultimately in charge of settling the account of our lives. Nor are we necessarily asked to forgive someone and like her/him! We can forgive a doctor who proscribes the wrong drug which makes us ill. However, we might still look for a new, more cautious physician. Or we forgive our sibling for the family party where he/she drank too much and said hurtful things but we can also choose to serve no alcohol at future family gatherings. Jesus says forgive. In the love of God and with God’s assistance we forgive. All the rest is justification for our reluctance to make such an act of love.


Read the parable (Matthew 18:23-35) again. Imagine yourself as the forgiven steward who, in turn, refuses to forgive the debt of his fellow. Do his greedy, selfish actions resonate in any small way? To whom should you offer a loving gesture of forgiveness? What will you do about it?

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