The Three Styles of Forgiveness



Readings:  2Dn. 12:7-10, 13/Gal. 2:16, 19-21

Psalm:      32:1-2, 5,7,11

Gospel:     Lk:  7:36-8:3


When I was a kid, I spent most of my time playing on my own.  Living in the country there was not too many kids my age to hang out with.  The rest of my family was much older than me and the things they could do I was too young for and the things that I wanted to do they were too old.  So I pretty much kept to myself for the most part.  But that didn’t mean that what I did wouldn’t get in the way of the others.  I was so caught up in what I wanted to do that it interfered with what was going on in the house.  But when you are a kid, you can do that.  When things went too far, my parents would take control and either tell me to stop it or move somewhere else before I received “THE PUNISHMENT OF THE SIBLINGS.”  This would include the ice down the back; the popular “noogie patrol” taken from Saturday Night Live; or the always effective “quit hitting yourself.” When you’re a kid, you can live in your own world for a time because someone was there to let you know when things went too far or it was time to listen to others so that everyone can have a good time.

But what happens to those lessons as we get older?  Some remember them and are able to handle the good and the bad society has to offer.  Other begin to take their freedom with them as they leave the home and believe they are entitled to do or say whatever they want.  They are bound by their own rules and the world is theirs for the taking.  They have a belief of “self-reliance” or “self-confidence” that no one can tell them what to do and everyone who does is wrong for saying so.  This is not “self-reliance” but “self-centeredness.”  And that “self-centeredness” seems to magnify once we get a sense of security or a feeling of importance from those around us.  When one focuses on the “self”, any actions that are done for the “self” are considered “never wrong” in that person’s mind.  My pleasure is the only thing that matters to me.  Whatever I need to do to be happy I will do it, no matter what.  The end justifies the means.  When a person’s “self” causes harm in the world-whether that harm is big or small-then sin enters into them.  The only way that it can be removed is the forgiveness given though the Mercy of God.

In the readings today, we see examples of how one can get so caught up in their own self-importance that their sin causes severe harm to those around them.  In the First Reading, King David gets called out by the Prophet Nathan for sending Uriah to a battle where he will most assuredly die so he can take Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, as his own.  Because of David’s actions, David’s house will never know a time where they will have peace. In the Gospel, Simon welcomed Jesus into his home, and yet he did not greet him with the usual hospitality.  It took a woman who was known to be a sinner to come into this home of a Pharisee and washed his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and anointed them with the ointment she brought in with her.  Yet his indignity refused to let him see the error of his ways.  In both stories, it was not the sin that they committed that was their error; it was the belief that because of their status in life they were exempt from behaving justly toward others in the eyes of God.

It is moments like these two that can stop a person in their tracks.  I like to call them “Presence of God” moments; because anyone who sees the face of God dies.  But those who come into the presence of God become aware of their actions and are given the chance to change their ways.  With David, he declares that he has sinned against the Lord.  With Simon, he understands that he was not the host that he, as a proper Jew, was obligated to be.  For those who get too involved with the world at large and treat it as a god, sometimes it takes being in the presence of God to discover the meaning of forgiveness.

I believe there are three ways to experience forgiveness:  to forgive, to be forgiven, and to watch forgiveness being done.  The toughest thing for someone to do is to forgive someone else.  Our society today prefers that a person has a strong sense of pride with them.  When we are injured-physically, spiritually or emotionally-we take the position that our pride has been hurt more than our self.  This definition of pride is not just another name for dignity.  It becomes a form of self-worship that brings us to sin.  Only by forgiving those that wrong us can we be truly free of this sin that can fester throughout our lives.

Being forgiven for something we have done can be just as hard.  Not only do we have to acknowledge that we have done something wrong, but we have to be receptive of the forgiveness that the other person will give to us.  Not only that, but we also have to be receptive to the forgiveness that we give to ourselves so that we can move on in our lives.  The woman who broke into Simon’s house:  we do not know what her sins were, and they are not important to the story.  All we know is that she realized that she has sinned so great before God that she had to come to God’s messenger and perform this act of penance in the hopes of being forgiven.  Jesus saw how great her faith was and granted her request:  her sins were forgiven.

To observe forgiveness being done can be a forgiveness of us as well.  When the party guests saw Jesus forgive the woman, they could not understand.  Why did he say that he forgave her sins?  Only God can forgive sins.  But they were in the presence of God; so their lives would change once they understood it. Observing forgiveness means that one allows themselves to look beyond the world that they see and experience the love of God through faith.  In the Second Reading, St. Paul tells the Church in Galatia that through faith in Jesus can one be saved.  It is not good enough to just perform good works.  They have to be combined with good faith.  We cannot enjoy paradise by embracing one and neglecting the other.

Paul understood that because he, too, was a subject to the Law by his works. These things include circumcision, dietary laws and refraining from non-Jewish festivals. Once he had faith, then he can say that what he is doing now will be blessed by God.  If he just kept obeying the law without have the faith to be part of the law, then he could not accept Jesus as Lord.  So for us, when we do something because we think that it will keep us in the good graces of the Church, then we are fooling ourselves.  We have to have the faith to accept that the things that we do is necessary to spread the Good News to everyone.  Then Christ’s faith in us will be justified, just as our faith in him is.

We have that opportunity today and everyday.  We can be a forgiving people because we have seen how God forgives us and his children.  We accept that we have sinned by our actions that pride and self-centeredness had blinded us.  But when we feel the mercy that God bestows on us from his forgiveness, then anything we do we can truly say it was for His Glory, not ours.






One thought on “The Three Styles of Forgiveness”

  1. Damn you do write pretty well……glad you didn’t talk about the time I made you ride on the back of the bike and you got your heel caught up in the spokes and got really hurt…..or the time I poked a Q tip in your ear and you screamed


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