Bottom line: Jesus teaching about our debt to God and to each for sure is difficult, but it is also beautiful and practical: "Forgive and you will be forgiven."
Last week I launched a homily series on Jesus' teaching "Forgive and you will be forgiven." We saw that as a society we are losing not only the ability to forgive but also the very desire to forgive.
For sure, to forgive is costly. To forgive from the heart is one of most difficult things most of us can do. But as we shall see in this series, forgiveness is a beautiful gift not only for the one forgiven, but also for the one who forgives.
Now, we have become used to saying "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive as we forgive those who trespass against us." Most of us don't realize how original Jesus' teaching is. The great Jewish philosopher and holocaust survivor, Hannah Arendt, writes, "The Discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs was Jesus of Nazareth." She adds, "The fact that he made this discovery in a religious context and articulated it in religious language is no reason to take it any less seriously in a strictly secular sense." In other words, forgiveness is not only difficult and beautiful, it is super practical. In this series we will see why.
At this point, I need to express a disclaimer. Forgiveness does not mean we fail to protect ourselves and others from an abusive person. We'll go more into that as the series develops.
What exactly, then, does forgiveness involves? Let's start by considering the alternative translation of "forgive us our trespasses." You have heard it before, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
In what sense can an offense be a debt? When I was in Peru, I used this concept to explain forgiveness to the Vacation Bible School children. I told them about when I was a young priest missionary. I went with a religious sister to a somewhat infamous zone of Lima. As we were getting out of the taxi, I opened my wallet to pay the driver. Three young men circled the cab. One of them pulled the door open and wrenched the wallet from my hand.
I asked the children what the thief had stolen from me. It was more than an old wallet and few dollars. He robbed no only my money, but my peace of mind, my dignity, my sense of honor that I should protect the young sister who accompanied me. (In those days I felt honor bound to defend any lady. Now I expect them to defend me.:)
Now, in the grand scheme of things, this robbery was a pretty small incident. And I could well reflect on Jesus' words today, "Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother's eye." Still, if I were one day to reconcile with that thief, he would have to acknowledge his debt - not only the money but something much more valuable he had taken from me.
Keep in mind this concept of debt. We will see it more deeply as we enter Lent. You and I have incurred a debt we cannot pay on our own. It's good to pray, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
This Wednesday we will receive ashes with the words, "Remember that you are dust..." Next Sunday we will see the three major temptations that bring us down - and how Jesus dealt with them. Our lives are precarious. We'll that as we enter Lent. Jesus teaching about our debt to God and to each for sure is difficult, but it is also beautiful and practical: "Forgive and you will be forgiven." Amen.
From Archives (Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Kurt Nagel (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru