The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (18:23-35)
Today’s gospel lesson is fairly simple and straightforward and yet these days such simple and straightforward teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ are completely neglected. All statistics point to a significant change happening in the fabric of our society. Today there are more atheists in the United States than at any time in history, that is a statistical fact. Why does this matter? Because as people lose their Christian faith, they are losing the ability to process and deal with life in the correct ways. We have so many struggles and temptations and battles in life. The Christian faith has for two thousand years been a place of refuge for those who struggle. If someone lost everything, they could still be full of joy because they held Christ near and dear to their hearts and kept His teachings as the compass of their lives. Christ should be our only treasure and our only hope.
As people lose their faith they also become very easy to manipulate. In the absence of God, or in the absence of a thriving Christian faith, people will find other flags around which to rally. Some will rally around isms, sexism, nationalism, feminism, marxism, socialism, racism etc. They will assume that tackling the injustice of the day will solve all of their problems, and they will be bitterly disappointed when that is not the case. Why? Because we have lost the ability to process and deal with life in the correct ways.
According to the Christian teaching, the issues that really trouble us have little to do with injustice and much to do with what is going on in our hearts. Sin proceeds from the heart. Sin is a rebellion against God which leads to a man being divorced from God and divorced from his neighbor. The divorce from God and from his fellow man is never amicable or friendly. It is full of anger, hatred and malice. Sin separates us from others and encourages us to see everyone as different from us. It encourages us to put people into classes and categories. It encourages hatred and violence against anyone or anything that stands against our cause or gets in our way. Anger and the remembrance of wrongs is like a mountain of debt that can never be repaid but simply multiplies out of control.
Is there any hope for us? There is always hope. The teachings of Christ are truly revolutionary and counter-cultural today. We may not be able to bring people directly to Jesus Christ, but perhaps we can introduce them to Christ through the teachings of the gospel. One of the fundamental activities of a Christian is that he or she forgives others. What should we forgive? Anything and everything, whether actual or perceived, whether real or imaginary. We put every pain, every injustice at the feet of Our Lord with assurance that He sees and knows our struggles. We also trust Him because He has not only taught us to forgive with words, He is the very image of forgiveness!
When the Lord hung on the cross on Holy Friday, the evangelists tell us that the Lord looked up to the heavens and cried “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This has been the model and prototype for generations of Christians who have fought to be Christ-like. Thousands upon thousands of martyrs have used these exact words and asked God to forgive their persecutors. Forgiveness is the path to healing. Whether we are talking about national healing or a marriage that is on the rocks, there is no path to unity without a generous dose of forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t only bring healing and unity, it brings salvation and communion with God! The Lord tells us that if we do not forgive others genuinely, from the heart, we will not be forgiven by our Heavenly Father. We all recite this fact in the Lord’s prayer each and every day “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespassed against us.” We are called to take this seriously. If you are going to say it and pray it, you’d better mean it.
We each have been hurt by others. We each carry wounds and memories of wrongdoings. We each have people that we currently do not love because they have sinned against us. How long should we hold those things in our hearts? How long should we bring them up and remember them and stir up our passions over them? As the people of God, let us be the example for our society by quickly forgiving everyone for everything. Let us show people what it is to have an open heart that is capable of love for others. Will it be easy, maybe not. Will it be painful, probably. But if we have love we can endure any and everything, and we can do it with joy for the sake of our Master Jesus Christ who offers Himself eternally as our only justice, our only peace, and our only hope… to Him alone belongs glory, now and ever and unto the ages of ages AMEN.