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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

This Week's Reflection from Fr. Bob Warren, Franciscan Friars of the Atonement: An Uneven Score

Franciscan Friars
Franciscan Friars
An Uneven Score
(Luke 7:36-8:3)
Jesus is taking a risk in today's gospel. He accepted an invitation to dine at the house of a Pharisee. Jesus was pretty hard on the Pharisees. They were religious extremists, and very opposed to Jesus and his teaching. I get the feeling in this gospel that Jesus was invited to this dinner as a kind of entertainment, because as we later learn that Jesus had been snubbed by the host. It was customary to provide water so that the guests could wash the dust and dirt of their feet, but Jesus had not been afforded this courtesy. All the guests, including Jesus, are reclining at the table, when a woman enters, unannounced and uninvited. She is not a stranger. She is well-known in the city. Her reputation is built on sinning. She comes in and stands at Jesus' feet and cries. Not only that, she wets his feet with her tears. Then finally, she does something unforgiveable. She lets down her hair. A woman never did that in public. She uses her hair to dry His feet, then she kisses His feet and anoints them with oil. Now, the host Simon is upset. Doesn't Jesus know who she is? What kind of a woman she is?
A woman entered a room, and two different men look at her and see totally different realities. One sees a woman who wants to be liberated from the life of shame, and seeks forgiveness and compassion. He recognizes her as a child of God. The other man is blinded by his social position. He says, if this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this is. But Jesus did know. He knew full well. He knew more about her than she knew about herself. He knew that she sincerely repented her sins, her many sins. She did not say a word. She had no need to. Her actions spoke volumes. Then, He says these simple, but beautiful words, "Go in peace. Your sins are forgiven."
This scripture shows us very clearly how God forgives those who repent. He forgives without reserve. God cannot help but forgive, for He loves us too much not to. But what does it mean for God to forgive? It does not mean that my sin is no longer a fact. Every infidelity of mine is indelibly inscribed in history. What, then, does it mean? For God to forgive me is to change me, not just skin deep, but at the very roots of my being. The sheer act of asking forgiveness, wanting forgiveness, shows a change.
We are fortunate that God does not forgive the way we do, very often, we forgive grudgingly. We will say, "I suppose I must accept your explanation." But what has passed has given me a different view of your character and things can never be the same again. What if God forgave us like that? We usually forgive in proportion to the laceration which an offense has caused to our own feelings, not in proportion to the sorrow which is felt by the offender. What if God forgave us like that? We forgive conditionally. "Very well," we say, "I will consent to overlook it for this once, but remember, if the same kind of thing happens again, it is the end." What if God forgave us like that?
There are probably few of us who have not been hurt or know people who have been hurt deeply. A spouse has walked out of our lives, children have disappointed us, parents have abused us and friends have betrayed us. The company to which we gave so much devotion has fired us without notice, leaving us unemployed and bitter. We have been refused a promotion, we have been treated unfairly. There is a host of deep and abiding hurts in the personal histories of most of us, but forgiveness is hard, isn't it? To consciously break the vicious cycle of revenge is hard.
During World War II in Russia, a 15 year old boy saw the enemy for the first time. There were over 10,000 Germans being held as prisoners of war by the Russian army. The Germans were being marched through streets of Moscow. The pavement swarmed with people, mostly women. The Russians had lost nearly 10 million soldiers, so every one of them had lost a father, a son or a husband in the war. The women gazed in hatred at the prisoners. They clenched their fists. The soldiers and the police did all they could to keep them back. Then all at once, something happened. They began to see these German fighters were little more than boys, wearing dirty bloodstained bandages, hobbling on crutches or leaning on the shoulders of their comrades. The German soldiers walked with their heads down. The street became silent. The only sound came from the shuffling of boots and thumping of crutches. The young Russian boy said of this scene, "My mother pushed herself through the police line, and from inside her coat, took a crust of black bread. She pushed it into the pocket of a young German soldier who was so exhausted that he was tottering on his feet. Then suddenly from every side, women were running towards the German POWs, pushing into their hands bread, cigarettes, apples, whatever they had." When the women saw the Germans hobbling through the streets of Moscow they were no longer the enemy. The men who had killed their relatives, they were victims, and the women felt for them. There was an outpouring of empathy and compassion. The violence they had intended was no longer in their hearts. It was no longer "an eye for an eye" and "a tooth for a tooth," but it was like taking care of human beings in the image and likeness of God. Jesus Christ would approve. Forgiveness, after all, is the deliberate decision to put up with an uneven score, and that rubs us the wrong way.
The point is, we are not just anybody. We are a community that was born out of Calvary's forgiveness, always called to be a reconciling community. If we practice "an eye for an eye" and "a tooth for a tooth" we are only going to end up with a world full of toothless and blind people. We cannot forget that we are commanded by Christ to pray to the Father in these words: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..."
Just one last thought—if the woman in the gospel were to walk into your Church, would you receive her?
Fr. Robert Warren
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Robert Warren Signature
Fr. Robert Warren, S.A.
Spiritual Director
P.S. On Father's Day, June 19th, the Friars will remember all fathers, living or deceased, at a Special Father's Day Mass at Graymoor. Please send me their names right away so the Friars and I may lift them up in prayer during our special Mass.
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