The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (6:14-21)
On this beautiful Sunday, just a day before we jump into the lovely waters of Great and Holy Lent, the Church as a wise mother gives us this reading which comes in fact from the sermon on the mount. These are precious words of our Lord Jesus Christ and they remind us that what is contained within the 4 gospels is more important than anything that has ever been written in history. In fact, these gospels are the very foundations of our society. Some might wonder why the gospel book on the table is wrapped in gold plated material. It is to remind us that what is contained within the 4 books of the holy gospels is nothing less than gold! In actuality it is so much more precious than gold. If I gave a man on the street the choice between a block of gold and the 4 books of the gospels there is little doubt that he would take the gold brick and run. But in actuality what is within the gospels can make us truly rich people. It can change lives and it can help to give us an inheritance that makes the gold brick look like a mere speck of dust in comparison.
The message given to us today in this most precious gospel is that before we begin our lenten struggle to grow closer to Jesus Christ, and to His Father, we should first be reconciled to everyone else. Just like the wise builder we are forced by our Lord to ensure that the foundations of our repentance are built on rock solid ground. And how do we know that in fact our repentance is built on solid ground? We know it when we have forgiven everyone of everything wrong that they have ever done towards us. It might make some of us wonder and say “what does this have to do with our own repentance with God?” The short answer is “everything.” When someone comes to their senses and leaves their life of sin and darkness and comes to Christ, the first thing that they do is fall on their knees and beg God to forgive them of all their many sins. We come to God in a broken state and we have nothing to offer Him. Yet He is generous with us and offers us what is needed to make a new start, that is, His divine forgiveness. With this sense of forgiveness we begin again and we stand up straight, no longer bowed down with the extreme weight of our sins.
This Sunday is our reminder that we were once estranged from God and yet He accepted us back into His heart. If we have known this forgiveness the only logical outcome is that we will also pour out this kind of radical forgiveness on those who seek it from us. In fact the worst possible scenario is one in which we continually remember the faults and wrongdoings of others even after they have asked or begged for our forgiveness. If we don’t forgive them there can be little doubt that our prayers won’t even be heard by God. And we actually say this every day when we recite the Lord’s prayer “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespassed against us.” That is a bold statement and we would do well not to pray it unless we believe it and practice it. St. Mark the ascetic says that “The sign of sincere love is to forgive wrongs done to us. It was with such love that the Lord loved the world.”
One cannot help but think about the state of our society and the way that it is quickly degenerating. This is a sign of our turn away from Christian teaching and from belief that God truly exists. One sign of this is that many people feel themselves to be victims. They believe that they have been wronged and they seek revenge or justice. Everyone is keeping score all the time. One is a victim of this “ism”, another is a victim of that “ism.” I wonder what would happen if we turned from keeping score of all the wrongdoing against us and started to practice radical forgiveness? We might not even think this is a possibility for us. I wonder what might happen if we decided that the story that defined our lives wasn’t about victimhood but about our love for our enemies, both actual and perceived? That would be a radical departure from the current trends that lead to division and it would no doubt, set the world on fire with the love of God.
The Church is the society of God. So we as a group are the first to model the behavior that is taught to us by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is so important to us that we will even come together tonight to truly ask forgiveness of one another. Let’s not lose this opportunity. If anyone has done you wrong, forgive them quickly from the bottom of your heart. Whether the one who has sinned or upset you was your friend or your brother or sister, your son or daughter, your father or mother, forgive them all in a way that confirms without a shadow of a doubt, that you understand what Christ has done to forgive you.
Let the beginning of this holy season be a time to ask forgiveness of others and to accept others requests for our forgiveness. This is what the love of Jesus Christ looks like. May this love also be ours. Glory be to God forever, AMEN.