Sin and Forgiveness

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (6:14-21)

“The Lord said to His Disciples: If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

This is a difficult word from our Lord Jesus Christ, a challenging word, perhaps even a terrifying word. We are reminded again by Our Lord that we will be judged by our likeness or resemblance to God. We briefly mentioned this last week when we spoke of the last judgement and whether we had acquired the works of love, whether or not we were filled with love. And now here, again at the cusp of the great and holy fast, we are once again faced with this reality. Is there anything within me that is redeemable? Is there anything in me that is worthwhile? Is there anything within me that is good? The Lord answers these questions by reminding us that whatever is good or worthwhile within us is redeemable precisely because it reflects and takes part in the image of the One who is good and worthwhile.

How much has the Lord forgiven you? If in the secret place of your heart you don’t think the Lord has forgiven you very much, then it is likely that you will not offer much in the way of forgiveness to others. But those whose hearts are open and sensitive know within the depths of their being that they were given great gifts by God, gifts that they did not deserve or earn. That He forgave them much. In such a persons life, there is an acknowledgement of just how far we have fallen and just how high we were raised again by the merciful God. For such a person, forgiveness flows naturally, abundantly.

Many of us grew up going to churches and being exposed to the teaching of Christ from a young age and I think that sometimes that makes us take things for granted. We are so used to these concepts that we rarely step back and take a moment to see just how beautiful and truly wondrous is God. God is merciful. He saw our wretched condition. He saw us bowed low by the terrible weight of sin. He saw us crushed and perplexed. He saw our adversaries rejoicing because they had defeated us. Sin was victorious. But Jesus Christ overturned the power of sin. He defeated it through His life-giving death. God forgave us because He is the One who forgives. Listen to these words from St. John of Kronstadt,

“When you pray that your sins may be forgiven, strengthen yourself always by faith, and trust in God’s mercy, Who is ever ready to forgive our sins after sincere prayer, and fear lest despair should fall on your heart — that despair which declares itself by deep despondency and forced tears. What are your sins in comparison to God’s mercy… if only you truly repent of them? But it often happens that when a man prays, he does not, in his heart, inwardly hope that his sins will be forgiven, counting them as though they were above God’s mercy. Therefore, he certainly will not obtain forgiveness, even should he shed fountains of involuntary tears….. ‘Believe that ye receive them,’ says the Lord, ‘and ye shall have them.’ Not to be sure of receiving what you ask God for, is a blasphemy against God.” – St. John of Kronstadt

So you see that even our saints tell us that God’s forgiveness is complete, total and absolute to the one who accepts it with sure faith. This complete, total and absolute forgiveness is part of God’s goodness and His love. God has redeemed your life so that you might also become love to others. So that you might offer a path to redemption for others. When we forgive others for all of the pain and difficulties that they have caused us in our lives, that doesn’t mean that we forget those things or that we pretend that they never happened. It doesn’t mean that we play dumb or forget. Instead we acknowledge them and move on from them. Our forgiveness is a sign of our love and our trust in God’s goodness and providence. A sign that God is present in everything. Our forgiveness is also a key that unlocks the depths of love to which we are capable. So these issues of forgiveness and love are by no means trivial. They are the heart and soul of Christian life. They are not mutually exclusive, but rather complimentary and necessary for one another.

God isn’t going to judge us based on how well we treat our families and friends and people we like. God is going to judge us on the person or group of people that we dislike the most. God is going to judge us on our disposition towards our enemies, our true enemies, those who have betrayed or harmed us. Make no mistake, what Our Lord requires of us, is nothing less than what He demonstrated for us from the cross. Pure and genuine forgiveness for everyone and for whatever they had done to Him. I will leave you with a final word from St. Mark the Ascetic who writes,

“The sign of sincere love is to forgive wrongs done to us. It was with such love that the Lord loved the world.”

+ St. Mark the Ascetic, “On Those Who Think They are Made Righteous by Works: Two Hundred and Twenty-Six Texts” No. 48, The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 1)

Source: Sermons