Have mercy on me, a sinner![Lk 18:13] [1] Reconciliation Part II: Who Forgives

Definitely, all my sinfulness starts with my basic disobedience to You, God. Since Adam’s time, this is the way I have been: Behold, I was born in guilt, in sin my mother conceived me. [Ps 51:6] I have been mortally afflicted since youth. [Ps 88:16] So, of course, I must beg your forgiveness. With the Psalmist I must cry: Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions. Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me. For I know my transgressions; my sin is always before me. [Ps 51:3-5] Just as in the time of the Temple, You do not desire sacrifice or I would give it; a burnt offering you would not accept. Instead you want obedience, contrition, humility: My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn. [Ps 51:18,19] Thus it was and is still absolutely necessary for me to plead for Your forgiveness, God. All sin is against You and only You can forgive me.

Indeed, those who argue for God-only forgiveness will insist: “What about the first three commandments?” Those are strictly God’s, right? Wrong. Just as You, God, are hurt, are disobeyed, are sinned against in all the other commandments, so I harm you, my sisters and brothers, every time I worship an idol instead of God, particularly if that idol is me; I both give you bad example, but also somehow I draw the human collective a little farther from God, I opt out of the Body of Christ and thus weaken it, I say to the world, God is wrong, follow me, follow my example instead. That’s part of social sin, tearing the seamless garment of Christ, tearing me apart from you, my brothers and sisters and rupturing my link with You, Jesus, through whom I can either participate in and build up Your body or tear it down.

The same is true every time I desecrate Your name, God. God, You must be horribly hurt that we constantly use Your name “in vain,” saying without thought, without reflection as to its meaning, its import, “O God!” when surprised, when angry, as an expletive, in flippant disregard for Who You are. Yet You make it very clear that is absolutely wrong; indeed, You, Yourself, Jesus, taught us to pray: hallowed be Your Name [Mt 6:9; Lk 11:2], but I have become so use to saying that, that I don’t ever think about what it means, what it implies, what it requires. And so, if I use Your name in anger, in frustration, in amazement, in any context where it is obvious that I just am using it to say something, I have hurt you, my brothers and sisters, by indicating by my irreverence, my callous disregard of its meaning, that it’s ok…see, I wasn’t zapped by a lightening bolt. Get your kicks and do it too! That’s how I sin against you, my friends.

Finally, my blatant disregard for the sanctity of You Sabbath, Your Day, God, my shopping, conducting my affairs, my business as if it were like any other day of the week, conveys that same message, that same scandalous, irreverent, disobedient behavior which says to all who see: “Forget God. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t pay attention to my little foibles. Why should He pay attention to yours. I can set up my own rules, so can you, my and your own schedule, my and your own sacred days. We don’t have to follow something set up centuries ago..” And the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom [Mt 27:51], God exposes Himself to me to console, to comfort, to gather us in and what do I do, I scream: Crucify Him, Crucify Him [Lk 23:21; Mk 15:13] and hang the abomination of desolation [Dan 12:11; Mt 24:15] in God’s place. That’s why I must as for your forgiveness, my friends; I have killed your God.

As God Himself has showed me, all sins against You, God, and therefore, I need Your forgiveness; I have pushed You away and I must be reconciled with You. But, at the same time, all sins against you, my brothers and sisters of our God family. To think that God let’s me off the hook when I blatantly dishonor, kill, steal, abuse, lie, slander, and cheat you, brother and sister, is nonsensical, idiotic, does not compute.

And this goes not only for these photo negative, active sin caught on the film of history, but also for neglect of the positive print of love, passive sin, believing I can just have faith without good works, without becoming involved in making the world a better place, in helping those who need my help: If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. [James 2:15-17] Both active and passive sin are here and now, involve me with you, my neighbor. The passive sin neglects the corporal [bodily] works of mercy, of kindness, of goodness, the cup of water works, the providing of food, clothing, care, concern type of works.

Active sin hasn’t even gotten to neglecting…I actively attempt to deceive, crush, obliterate, exterminate you, your rights, your possessions, your reputation, your very self. That’s why I have to start with the works required by the commandments. Maybe that’s what Jesus was pointing to when he knocked my namesake off his horse and asked him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Notice that, while Jesus completely identifies with the Christians Saul is persecuting, these Christians were the ones being persecuted: Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment. [Acts 8:3; 22:4; 26:9–11]. Thus, though You, God, are always the injured party when I sin, that injury is also to the person effected by my sin. Persecuting violates the commandments,…it doesn’t even get to service.

Most obvious is physical injury, the person I wound is you; you are injured; you are killed, you are dead. But the same holds true of mistreatment of you, my parents, of you others whose integrity before You, God, I abuse in casual sex, in depriving you of what you own, of your good name, even of coveting what you have [a slap in Your face who have given me all I need]. In all these, I chose not only myself over You, God, not only following my own will instead of willing to obeying Your commandments, I have also chosen myself, my way, my comfort, my ego-centric world that I imagine revolves around me over you, everybody but me. I over look, ignore, refuse to recognize the situation from your point of view. I refuse, therefore, to do exactly what You, God, ordered me to do: to do to you, my neighbor, what I would want done to me in the same situation, to treat you as I would want to be treated. I have not loved but ignored, brushed aside, trampled over you.

The fact that I am not alone since all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God, [Rom 3:23] and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned, [Rom 5:12], that is, the fact that you, my brother, my sister, sinned against me, owe me a debt, have trespassed on me, does not “balance my books,” obviate the need for me seeking your forgiveness. I cannot think that since you have done evil to me, I can do evil to you with impunity, to “even up the score;” that somehow what I do is not held against me because it is “an eye for an eye.” Do not repay anyone evil for evil…“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord….” Indeed, that way leads to hatred, violence, murder, war, annihilation; that path is that path of terrorists and tyrants. Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good. [Rom 12:17, 19, 21].

This is not fantasy. This is not fairytales or goody two-shoes. Forgiving you is absolutely necessary if I expect to be forgiven by God. Jesus placed the scales of justice squarely in my own tainted, sin filled and guilt-ridden hands: forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors [Mt 6:12]. I must forgive you your sins, your trespasses, your walking over me, if I expect to be forgiven by God. Jesus made this point again and again. And I need to do this not just once, but 70 x 7 times [Mt 18:22]. Which means, in turn, that I must seek forgiveness 70 x 7 times [Mt 18:22]. I’ve noticed that, while I have a pension for ignoring, downplaying, brushing aside my sins against you, I am super quick to take offense at any little peccadillo of yours against me, harboring black and dire thoughts of eyes for an eye and teeth for a tooth, Edmond Dantès, John McClane type revenge.

And I certainly do not come up to Your standard Jesus: Love one another as I have loved you. [Jn 13:34] As You pointed out to me in a previous reflection, while most will identify this as simply a iteration of Lv 19:18, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, I think this takes loving you others to a new level. While in my better moments, I may come up to the standard You set, I have many moments when I do not love myself…to various degrees. I may be just miffed at my blowing something or I may be really angry at myself for “not living up to my standards,” regardless of whether these standards are Yours or simply my ego’s projection. In any event, love one another as You loved us not only purifies such extraneous egoisms, but maintains a constant level of love, a gold standard by which I can measure my love, my agape, my outreach.

Thus, if I apply this gold standard to my actions, I not only recognize when I fall short of treating others as You would treat them, but I am constantly reminded that You identify Yourself with each and every one of “them,” the omnipresent, easy tag for distancing myself from you as my God-family, as I love you, and thus, when I fall short of loving “them,” I fall short of loving You. If I would see You, Christ, in every one of you I meet, I would know that I cannot pretend to serve You, Jesus, directly, whom I do not see, and ignore serving you, my least of these, whose want and need are blatant before me.

Therefore, it is not enough that I set myself straight with You, God. For every sin I commit, I need the forgiveness of both God and you, my brothers and sisters; I need to seek reconciliation of both God and you for our community to be a community, a people of God. I need to seek your forgiveness, my brothers and sisters. Justice demands I make things right with you, I make adequate amends for having wronged you, hurt you, ignored you, deprived you, debased you, demoralized you. And I need your and your and your forgiveness for the times I have personally sinned against you.

Forgiveness, thus, is an absolutely necessary, often forgotten, ignored, even despised as weakness, lubricant of our social structure, of any relationship, be it God and me, you and me, your family and my family, your “hood” and my “hood,” your wealth and my poverty, your sex and my sex, you race and my race, your religion and my religion, your nation and my nation, your world and my world. It is the realization that there truly is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Gal 3:28] It is a bi-lateral, mutual, common-ground understanding, an agreement, a wisdom revealed, that we are unique and that’s ok, that we share more than we differ, that we, save God[2], are all human and fallible and make mistakes.

No, forgiveness can’t be limited to just God and me as the authorities then and many people now seem to think. Yes, I must seek forgiveness from You, God, I must also seek forgiveness from you, my friends.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] This does not mean that I don’t have to “forgive” God…when He takes a loved one home and leaves me abandoned, inconsolable, enraged, frantic, freaked out, depressed unto despair, when I rant and rave against heaven and cannot see the light of morning, He carries his tantrum traumatized child until my tears flow and my wracked convulsed psyche comes to the peace of the heart, of the soul, that passes all understanding…and I can “forgive” God His wisdom and love.

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