As we continue through this Jubilee Year of Mercy we must never underestimate the power and importance of forgiveness. But forgiveness is a two-way street: We must seek it for ourselves and offer it to others. Our readings for this Sunday highlight some of the best examples of forgiveness that we are meant to emulate:
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-32 (or 15:1-10)
Our first reading from the book of Exodus has God is extremely angry at the Israelites, who have turned their back to him by worshiping a golden calf. Moses, however, using God’s own words in his argument, is able to talk him down, revealing God’s ever-present offer of forgiveness. God relents from destroying the Israelites, showing us that a God who can wield great power can also show great mercy. This is the God who protects us, even though we may stray… all we need to do is ask, as we hear in our Psalm as we sing, “I will rise and go to my father. Have mercy on me, O God.”
Our second reading begins our seven week study of Paul’s letters to Timothy. While many of Paul’s letters are addressed to entire communities, the letters to Timothy are personal, like a mentor to his student. In this week’s passage from the opening of the first letter, Paul holds up his own weaknesses as example of God’s forgiveness. You may recall that Paul himself a devout Jew, fought vigorously against the Christian movement until he had an encounter with the risen Jesus… and if this encounter could change a man like him for the better, then how much easier it would be for others.
Continuing our theme of forgiveness, we turn to our Gospel from Luke, where we are given three parables. In the opening verses we are given the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. Both of these show us the great length we take to find something that is lost, and the rejoicing that follows when it is found. As it turns out, these were just the warm-up acts, and give added depth to the third parable, that of the prodigal son. This is perhaps one of the most remembered and beloved parables, and is a unique gift from Luke’s Gospel. One reason this particular sticks with us so strongly is because most of us can see ourselves in one or more of the characters in the story. When we are younger, we often relate to the character of one of the sons, especially if we come from a family with siblings. As a parent, we can begin to understand the character of the father. But regardless of who you connect with, we are still awestruck the father’s willingness and desire to forgive his son. This is the forgiveness God has to offer… a forgiveness and mercy we can all share if we but ask.
“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” These lines from the Lord’s Prayer, for me, are some of the most profound in all of scripture. They define not only the nature of God, but they establish for us the ethic which binds us to God. It teaches us that God’s forgiveness is there for the asking… but as with everything, there is a price. What is that price? That we must do the same… to others. Only through humility can we recognize and approach God for forgiveness. But it is also that same humility that we must call on to be able to offer that same forgiveness to others. One must follow the other. We all make mistakes, some bigger than others. It’s part of our human condition, and an integral part of the learning process. But if we are to grow, we need to learn those failures and move on. If we fail to practice forgiveness, we accumulate baggage that can only weigh us down, leading us further and further from the Father. By practicing forgiveness, we let go that baggage and can grow ever closer to the Father.