Friday, March 10, 2017

Forgive As You Are Forgiven

By Colleen O’Sullivan
Thus says the Lord God:  If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die.  None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him; he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced.  Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked?  says the Lord God.  Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live? (Ezekiel 18:21-23)

Jesus said to his disciples:  “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.  You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…  Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  (Matthew 5:20-22a, 23-24)

If you, O Lord, mark iniquities,
Lord, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
(Psalm 130:3-4)

How we view today’s Scripture readings depends in large measure on how we conceive of God.  If we think of God as the great scorekeeper in the sky, always ready to record our every transgression, then being asked to keep all God’s statutes might sound fairly burdensome, if not impossible.  And, on top of that, hearing Jesus say that adhering to the letter of the Law is not enough by a long shot, that we are accountable for our thoughts as well as our deeds, might make us want to throw in the towel in despair.  There’s no hope for us!  We know we don’t always do or say the right things and, to an even greater degree, we know our hearts and thoughts are not always in the right place.
But I think we can look at God and God’s commandments in a totally different light.  If we believe that God created us in love and desires nothing more than our love and friendship in return, then I think the commandments look more like gifts than burdens.  God wants us to be happy and the Law as God gave it to Moses can only serve as a guide to peace and happiness.  When we fail to put God before all else, things begin to fall apart in our lives.  When we tell lies about one another, covet other people’s wealth or good fortune or their husbands or wives, we do nothing but create unhappiness for ourselves as well as others.  
Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reading are also spoken in love.  Every one of us knows what it feels like to be angry at someone who has inflicted hurt or humiliation upon us.  We carry the grudge around.  It grows and grows until there doesn’t seem to be room for much of anything else in our lives.  Jesus is saying give yourself and the other person a break.  We are all sinners who have been forgiven multiple times by God.  Extend that same mercy and compassion to the person who’s the object of our anger.  Forgiving frees up space in our hearts for loving.

Clasped Hands, Rhoda Baer (Photographer), Wikimedia Commons,  Public Domai
One way to observe Lent is to fast.  Sometimes we do that by giving up certain foods.  In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus asks us to give up whatever we are holding against others in our hearts.  Grudges have a way of growing to the point where they consume all our energy.  

When you have some quiet time today, look into your heart and see if perhaps you are storing up any anger there.  If you find some, follow Jesus’ advice and seek to reconcile things with the other person.  Sometimes, when a hurt is deep enough, forgiveness is more a process than a one-time event, but our goal is always to be in harmonious relationship with God and one another.

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