THE LORD SAID, "If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Lent is here! (almost).
When Christ spoke these words, unconditional forgiveness was not a thing in the society of that day. Forgiving someone from your family or from your tribe was an acceptable kind of forgiveness. However, forgiving everyone and anyone out of the kindness of your heart, was unheard of. So we can imagine that Christ’s words did not resonate with the people at first. These were the conditions of being a follower of Christ. Therefore, in a away, this was a new commandment.
It is a distinct characteristic of God that He alone can truly forgive. The fact that Christ gives this commandment to us shows that He is bestowing this divine characteristic up on human beings.
The Judeo-Christian teaching on the creation of human beings is that we are created in the image of God. By this fact alone, we can say that we already possess something divine, whatever it may be. Or at the very least, we have the God-given capacity to acquire the divine characteristics that God chooses to grant us.
Forgiveness is one of them. God is not partial in the way He forgives us. The only way He might choose not to forgive is if we decide to reject His forgiveness. For example, if we never ask for it or "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." The latter is from the Lord's Prayer, where we ask God the Father to forgive us in the same way we forgive others.
There was a person once who came to a priest and said, "Father, no matter what I do, I can't forgive some people. And when I say the Our Father, the line about forgiveness sticks out the most, but still, I can't forgive." And the priest said, "Then do not say that line when you pray."
Praying the Lord's Prayer and asking for forgiveness, while holding grudges is one of the highest forms of hypocrisy. Nobody is saying that forgiveness is easy. Yet, God has allowed us to do something that only He can do.
Forgiveness is one of the defining characteristics of the Christian faith. Practice it. Think of specific people that need your forgiveness and pray for them. Don't pray about them, but for them. No matter who we are and no matter what we do, all of us have at least a handful of people whom we haven't forgiven something. Pray that God grant you a kind heart that is able to forgive.
For last year's reflection, click here.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest