If there is (at least) one thing that I’m guilty of, it’s failing to recognize the beauty and magnificence in my life.
I live in a place where the sun shines 350 days out of the year. I have two fully functional legs and all of my teeth. As if that’s not amazing enough, every Sunday I receive the Body and Blood of Christ unto the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.
In Christ, God has unconditionally and mercifully accepted me - accepted us. Each of us stands before God guilty of so much. Each of us has used our neighbors, de-humanized others, broken promises, and committed all manner of atrocities. And yet each of us stands alone before a God who pities us and (amazingly) forgives us.
But do we - do you - do I - recognize the immensity of what we have each been forgiven?
Sadly, as this Sunday’s Gospel reading tells us, we don’t.
We read of a servant who has a great and outstanding debt owed to the King. The King mercifully recognizes the servant’s inability to pay, and out of the goodness of his (His) heart forgives the entire debt.
The servant, immediately after being forgiven, goes and finds a fellow servant of the King, who owes him a relatively tiny amount. Servant #1 then has Servant #2 thrown into prison for being unable to repay his debt.
The contrast is incredible: the King forgave a fortune, while the servant condemned a man over pocket change.
We are unmistakably the servant who holds a grudge against his fellow servant. And today, this Gospel reading moves me to deep terror as I begin to realize that I haven’t even begun to plumb the depths of what God has forgiven me. It also grieves me because I begin to realize just how unforgiving I truly am, and how many people I’ve condemned.
Thus, I see this Gospel as a two-part call: 1) to recognize the depth of one’s own sinfulness in order to comprehend the height of God’s love for us, and 2) to forgive others in light of what God has forgiven us.
Let’s start with forgiveness, which is a complex reality.
Forgiveness, on the one hand, should cause immeasurable joy and gratitude. After all, what is there to mourn any longer? The tremendous burden we carry is finally lifted! Our sin is no longer an obstacle for relationship with God! (PHEW!)
On the other hand, we treat the forgiveness of sins like a twenty-one-year-old treats Margarita Madness Mondays. Rather than exercising sobriety, forgiveness becomes our right and an excuse to binge on sin, both indulging in our own and delighting in the sins of others (#RealityTV #Schadenfreude).
So while the forgiveness of sins is something we rightly celebrate, it should also be received as a call to self-reflection.
That we are sinners is no surprise to God, but too often it seems like it is a surprise to us. Sometimes we run from our sin by justifying it (“It’s not really a sin”), at other times by downplaying it (“At least I’m not a murderer”). Regardless, we avoid facing our own sin, because it is simply too painful to realize the degree to which we are imperfect. It is painful to reflect and see the truth about oneself.
Yes, we’re forgiven, but we are forgiven sinners.
We have been forgiven a great debt, and this Gospel reading calls us to face its nature. It is only by facing the reality and greatness of the forgiven debt that we can understand the immensity of God’s love for us. To quote Fr. John Behr, “To plumb the depths of my own fallenness is to scale the height of divine love”
And the reality is that God forgives us much, for we are guilty of much.
But are we willing to extend this same mercy to others? All too often, we are not. We see how someone said something that was mildly offensive to us, and we hold it against them. A roommate leaves their dirty coffee mug in the sink, and our first instinct is to blame them for ruining our life.
Sure, this seems ridiculous, but we do it; we hold onto every minor quarrel and squabble and annoyance. So how do we begin to let go and foster an attitude of forgiveness?
In her amazing TED Talk, Dr. Brenè Brown states that having forgiveness and compassion start with having compassion for oneself and is extended to others. But, following this Sunday’s Gospel reading, I would suggest it really begins with understanding God’s own forgiveness and compassion for us, and that only then can it be extended to others.
Because if we accept God’s forgiveness for us, we have no reason to justify ourselves and thus no reason to hold sin against others. His forgiveness frees us to forgive.
We are commanded to become forgiven sinners who forgive other sinners. For having been forgiven of so much, how can we hold anything against anyone else?
This kind of work is difficult and uncomfortable because it means seeing the truth about oneself as a forgiven sinner. But once we see ourselves clearly, we will be free to lean into gratitude for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting, to stop holding inane sins against others, and to start sharing the good news of God’s forgiveness for all.
National Debt: wallyg via Compfight cc
Dirty Sink: Premshree Pillai via Compfight cc
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
For more on seeing one's own sins and forgiving others, check out this episode of Be the Bee: