15 September 2013

Foolish. Persistent. Generous: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I have a confession to make: I’m one of those people who constantly flip radio stations when I’m driving.  And, despite of the many things usually said about drivers from New Jersey, I’d to think it’s the only bad habit that I have in the car.

While scrolling the radio bands, I love to stop and listen to the fire and brimstone preachers on the radio.  I’ll listen for a few minutes and then start arguing with them about their thoughts about one thing or another.  And, of course, the best part is that they never argue back.  Yet, some time ago, I was scrolling through the dial and I found something completely different:  It was an advice talk-radio program: you’re familiar with the format.  Someone would call with a problem and the all-knowing host would past judgment on a particular situation or offer advice.   But in this case, it was a Christian talk radio show: people called in for religious advice.  I’ll never forget one caller’s tearful question: after listening a whole series of failures in life, she tearfully asked: “how can God forgive me?” 

This may be a question that we have asked at one time or another in our lives.  And, it’s interesting that in a political and media-driven world we often hear about second-chances.  Yet, these second-chances seem, so often, to be skin deep.  In the latest reclamation story about an athlete caught using steroids, a politician taking a bribe, or a celebrity being unfaithful in a relationship, we certainly first hear the good news: they’re back and they’re better than ever.  Their lives have been totally changed and starting today is the first day of the rest of their lives.  With all the cheering, however, in these stories also get to hear an entire retelling of what this person or that has done wrong.  It seems as if in our world that second-chances are nice – but they’re based in the in the equally strong remembrance that a wrong has been done. 

 While our failures aren’t published on the front page of the Globe or on the glossy pages of the tabloids at Stop and Shop, we still know the feeling of repairing a relationship only to have, at the next fight, our old failures brought up again.  This is, plainly put, the experience of only being mostly forgiven.  Our wrongs are erased until it’s convenient or necessary to bring them.

What’s most frustrating, perhaps, is that this happens most often with the people we love: siblings and parents, lovers and friends.  They forgive us – mostly.  Or, we may be embarrassed to admit that we forgive them, at least until we need to clinch an argument and then we bring up what happened last week.  None of us are exempt from this: and I boldly include myself as often taking both of these positions (and if you don’t believe me, ask some other friars). 

The reality of our failures, however, is what makes this week’s Gospel so absolutely extraordinary.  God’s forgiveness stands in complete contrast to ours exactly because it isn’t half-hearted, partial or conditional – it counts until we mess up again.

Maybe that’s why this Sunday’s Gospel is so long: our experience with forgiveness is so often very different than God’s offer of it to us and so we need to hear about it not once or twice, but three times. 
Jesus provides those listening to him three examples, each one building on another, in order to drive home the point that God does not forgive us half-heartedly or with hesitation, but seeks us out in our troubles and offers us this gift of forgiveness that is not a second-chance, but rather a new beginning filled with the very love of God.

But, how do we remember this? How, we may ask, can we manage, among all of the “stuff” that gets in our way this week, remember that God seeks and desires to forgive us and assist us in setting our lives right again.  Three words, I think:

Foolish. Persistent. Generous.

God is as foolish as the shepherd who leaves ninety-nine for the sake of one.  God is foolishly forgiving, going out in search of those who have been lost. 

God is as persistent as the woman who loses a coin and sweeps the entire house, searching for it.  God searches for us, never giving up; no matter how long we’ve ignored his offer of forgiveness.

And God is generous as the father who, upon seeing his child returning to him, takes off running, wiping away faults with a hug and a kiss and refusing to follow the ways of the world demanding repayment. 

Foolish.  Persistent.  Generous.

Yet all too often, the message of God’s foolish, persistent and generous forgiveness doesn’t get communicated.  At the same time, so very often we hear the opposite perspective: I’m okay and you’re okay and so forgiveness isn’t needed.  But, when we look in the mirrors, can we really convince ourselves of that?

Jesus teaches us today that we do need forgiveness.  At the same time, if forgiveness were ever beyond God, then parables of the Foolish Shepherd, the Persistent Woman, and the Generous Father would not have been told. 

Yet, if it is only God who remains foolish, persistent, and generous in forgiveness, only half the battle has been won.  In today’s Gospel and now, in this Eucharist, God pledges to us foolish, persistent and generous forgiveness: when we leave this Church today, let us remember it is our call to tell the world of God’s foolishness, persistence and generosity, and, even more importantly, show it to others in our own life.

1 comment:

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