Concerning this Gospel, there is perhaps a temptation to say, “Yeah, I’ve heard it all before. It’s a long Gospel.” We might tend to just shoot it down and tune it out right when he starts reading.
And yet the Scriptures say, “They ate of the produce of the land in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain,” (Joshua) and “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” (II Corinthians) Do these readings not indicate that the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come, and that, and all this is from God? Is it possible that we are being challenged in this “Year of Faith” to look at all things with new eyes – even old, familiar Scripture passages?
In a recent Gospel reflection group which I attend, EVERYBODY had horror stories of people who had hurt them. One man spoke about his mean brother and how he watched him mistreat or ignore their sick parents. Another told the story about his daughter who was married to a wonderful man, husband, and father. She was a wife and mother who decided to simply leave the home to “find herself” and was squandering her life away with dissipate living. There was a story of a son and a dad who died before they were reconciled, and men who had been hurt at work. A brother was angry with his needy siblings who were “squandering mom’s retirement money because their lives are messed up and mom is “enabling” their behavior and lifestyle.
One guy shared his difficulty with forgiveness: “I do anger with the best of them. Not even FedEx can do ‘postal’ like I do.” But then he shared an insight that there is a connection between “spiritual growth” and “spiritual readiness;” between “forgiveness” (our human act of the will) and “reconciliation” (God’s grace when all of the emotion has been dissipated). Forgiveness is a sign of spiritual readiness, and it isn’t instantaneous. God has to till the soil of your heart first and plant the seed and water and fertilize the ground before it bears the fruit of forgiveness.
There is no time limit. God can take his time, letting me go through spiritual growth until he gets me to where I need to be experience spiritual readiness. Meanwhile, He will place certain people in my pathway and put me in certain situations to move me along. One man shared a story about a nun he knew. He was sharing with her about a situation he was facing at work. The Sister told him: “Look, go to Adoration, write a letter to Jesus and say, ‘This is how I feel, this is why I feel that way.'” In prayer Jesus said to him “Yeah, I felt the same way 2,000 years ago! Look, offer it to me, give me the burden. Forgive – then walk away from it. There are SO many factors about this situation that you’re not aware of. There are SO many factors about this situation that are not in your control. Give me the burden. Forgive then walk away from it.”
Forgiveness is something you can’t give until its been given to you; can’t do it until you’ve experienced it. Read the first line of the Gospel, “Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus.” They’d experienced it. (Like the father earlier in his life perhaps?) We read further…“But the Pharisees and scribes began to complain.” They didn’t know what it felt like (similar to the older brother – maybe?).
We don’t want to be the older brother, or like the guy in Matthew’s Gospel (18:28-30) who owes the $50 million.
“Later, that same servant found another servant that owed him a few dollars’ worth of silver. The servant grabbed the other servant around the neck and said, ‘Pay me the money you owe me!’ The other servant fell on his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me. I will pay you everything I owe.’ But the first servant refused to be patient and the other servant was thrown into prison.”
The master turned the tables on the ungrateful servant. God will turn the tables on us, too. One guy shared a story about how he came home from work one day in a really grumpy mood, not dealing with his stuff in a healthy way, but taking it out on his wife and kids, which they didn’t deserve. He was putting his little girl to bed that night and she says, “Daddy, I’m sorry if I did something to make you unhappy today.”
Richard Rohr is a Franciscan friar, an internationally-known inspirational speaker, and has published numerous recorded talks and books. He asks the question “What do you do with your stuff now?” and says “If you don’t transcend it, you will transmit it.” And – you can’t do this. No retreat, no therapy, no self-help book can do this. It can help. Grace builds on nature. God works through the hands of the physician but ultimately – only the Lord can do this.
And this brings us to the most important point. It’s not about us, or our sin. It’s about God and HIS forgiveness. You can’t do this unless you’ve experienced God’s love and forgiveness. Only those who have been transformed can transform others. In “12 Step Programs,” step 6 is to “Ask God to remove ALL of your defects.” In our Gospel reflection group, we do this by saying the “Litany of Humility” each week. But more importantly, ask God to pour out the grace upon you so that you can actually know – and experience – what His love really feels like …so that you, and I, can give this to others.