The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (6:14-21)
Imagine being given access to God. He appeared to you in your room, or called you on the phone or maybe He began to text you. Imagine the possibilities! What would we ask Him? What would we discuss with Him? What would He tell us? It turns out that you do not have to imagine any of this. God has in fact come to us. He appeared and took flesh as a man. He lived among us and spoke and taught us. He taught even more when He was silent and even more than that when He silently hung upon the cross. We have the words and deeds of the Son of God written for us and passed down from generation to generation. We have these words wrapped in a gold cover and sitting on the holy altar.
We don’t have to imagine a single thing about what God would ask of us or require of us or what He desires for our life. We have only to have faith in Him and follow Him.
In the past few weeks we have been preparing to enter into the holy spiritual contest of great lent through the gospel passages that have been appointed for us. Each week we have received something new from the Lord Jesus Christ. A new angle or aspect of the spiritual struggle that requires our attention and focus. The same occurs this week as we read this final gospel reading before we dive headlong into the blessed 40 days.
The Church again brings forward the life giving words of her bridegroom, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, as a doorway and a path for us to enter into new life. Life in Christ. And what is the focus of this Sunday and the teaching of the gospel? Forgiveness. What does it mean to forgive? It means to let go of, to forget and to release others from the debt which they owe or the wrongdoing that they have done.
Forgiveness is interesting in that there is no way to fake it. Because it relates directly to how we view others deep within our own hearts. You can’t do it halfway. It requires full commitment, a fully engaged heart. It requires letting go of pain and hurt. It requires letting go of resentment. It requires wiping away the old and starting fresh. It requires giving everyone around you the benefit of the doubt and seeing the tremendous potential that everyone has to be changed and transformed from their old ways into something new and beautiful. In short, it requires becoming like God. In fact this is a common understanding of the early saints of the Church such as St. John Chrysostom who wrote, “Nothing makes us so like God as our readiness to forgive the wicked and wrongdoer. For it is God who has made “the sun to shine on the evil and on the good.”
When we forgive we act like God and that should be no surprise to us because forgiveness is a sign of mercy and love and God is all merciful and all loving. In fact, we are taught that God is love. What does sincere love look like? Listen to St. Mark the ascetic who taught, “The sign of sincere love is to forgive wrongs done to us. It was with such love that the Lord loved the world.” Sincere love and forgiveness live and breathe together. They are inseparable. So we can’t claim to be loving people if we don’t also practice forgiveness. In our society many talk about love, but many are still angry and resentful and quick to blame and demonize others. These are signs pointing to the truth. Our society talks about love in a superficial way. True love involves sacrifice and forgiveness. And if we practice and live it, we are not far from the kingdom my brothers and sisters.
That is the point of our gospel reading today. All of the prayers, all of the fasting, all of the rules and disciplines, these things will not matter much if we don’t actualize the love that Christ has for us by loving others. Of course it is easy for us to love those who love us and treat us well. Nothing is unique about that. What is unique is when we behave like the Lord and love those who might not deserve it or who treated us unkindly. This requires forgiveness. And forgiveness is one of the main signs that we love our enemies. And loving our enemies is the true indicator that we are full of love in a way that makes us similar to the Lord.
In order for us to understand the power and the potential of forgiving others we have to continually remind ourselves of the power of God’s love for us. As humans and as Christians we should all have a deeply rooted experience of God’s forgiveness of our sins. Perhaps the youth and children haven’t had this experience yet, but I hope that they will one day. Each one of us should feel the weight of sin and the depth of our own fallenness. And many of us have experienced the joy of being received into the arms of the Father, and being welcomed home. We experience renewed hope and freedom in the forgiveness offered by the Lord. We feel accepted and yes, we feel loved.
As children of God, we are encouraged, even required to share this amazing experience with others. To accept others, to renew their hope, to wipe away their failings and the pains that they have caused us and to love them with the power of forgiveness. On top of our desire to be like God, there is also the warning that the Lord gives to those who do not learn to forgive and this should terrify us. Listen to these words of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk
“Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbours, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness or unforgiveness of your sins, then, and hence also your salvation or destruction, depend on you yourself. For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation. You can see for yourself how serious it is.”
May we never be in danger of losing our salvation through our lack of love. When we lack love and forgiveness we are like people who shut ourselves out of the kingdom of God and lock ourselves on the other side. Receive the love and forgiveness of Christ, and unlock the doors of love and forgiveness for everyone around you. This is our path to fully embracing God’s love and as we embrace it we will be healed by it and we will offer healing to others for their benefit and ultimately for our salvation. Glory be to God forever AMEN.