Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Coins with two sides

A lot of times, I am drawn to meditate further on a particularly juicy bit of Scripture. That's nothing new or extraordinary. Everyone, even the most narcoleptic Judeo-Christian sorta person does this from time to time. Big whoop, right?

What is uncommon (or, at least, I think it is) is to meditate on two separate passages and by doing so, getting a deeper meaning of each passage individually. This is the very thing that happened to me and, because I'm a giver, I will share these insights with you as you go and obtain a soothing beverage.

So here's the thing of it. Last Sunday at Mass, the Gospel reading had to do with forgiveness and not (as I used to think when I was a little kid) with teaching Simon Peter to multiply* which was especially apt given that Sunday was also the 4th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks on NYC, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. This bit resonated with me because I have a very, very dear friend (known him over 20 years, usher at my wedding, yadda, yadda, yadda) whose brother died--pretty much on impact--while working in the first tower. At any rate, the message of this passage in St. Matthew's Gospel (18:21-22, if you are reading along at home) is a sneakily tough one.

Forgive. Forgive even when you don't want to, forgive especially when you don't want to. Forgive even when the Forgive-ee doesn't deserve it.

In today's world we associate getting something with earning it. We work hard to make money and so we have "earned" that new combination digital hot dog cooker and bun toaster. So we have a rough time having to give something to someone who hasn't earned it. We feel like we're being shaken down. "Why should I forgive THIS idiot? Did you see what he did to my poodle with that fork?"

The short answer is because "Thus saith the Lord." But I expect that won't satisfy most people. We forgive that we may be forgiven. It's that simple. Think back at all the terrible things you did, awful things you said, horrible things you say nothing of all things you should have done but didn't. If you run all that though an Excel spreadsheet, chances are you'll want God to cut you some slack. But guess what? God will say "Um. OK. How much slack did you cut people back on earth? I'll just use that slack, m'kay?" If you're happy with that answer, you're home free, and the minute your physical body hits room temperature, you can start enjoying your nice white robe, shiny harp and King Size cloud.

If not--and this pretty much covers everyone who isn't likely to have a petition for canonization--then you really should start adjusting your Forgiveness Meter to start peeling off slack. I'm thinking it would be Way Not Fun to get to the Seat o' Judgment only to find you're about 8 feet short.

But what does all THIS have to do with the previous week's Gospel reading? Well, a lot, actually. More than you'd think, definitely.

The gist of that reading that dovetails with the above is this little tidbit (St. Matthew's 18:15-17, by the way):

Jesus said to his disciples:“If your brother sins against you,go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

The point of this passage is not: "If you see that some guy is being a jerk, bawl him out. If he is still a jerk, take a pal and both of y'all bawl him out. If he is STILL a jerk, tell everyone in church what a jerk this guy is and that he works with Gentiles at the IRS."

No. The purpose of this passage is that Jesus is telling us to go that extra mile in extending the merciful forgiveness of God to other people. Like in the case of forgiveness, correcting someone's error is not about you. God's intention is that everyone gets a heapin' helpin' o' salvation and sometimes we are the means via which that mercy is to reach people. A lot of times its easy...but sometimes we have to act like a subpoena server, banging down the door to give people the message.

Jesus acknowledges athat some people do not want that mercy and therefore we (like He) aren't supposed to go cramming salvation down anyone's throat. Our point in correcting people leading a life of error, adrift from God's loving plan for them, is to send them down the path where God's forgiveness is something they can access. This is the other side of the coin to forgiving. It's not enough to just "la-dee-dah I forgive you" but to make your forgiveness stick by letting the other person access God's forgiveness, which is the source of yours.

This is the expanded version of what we read from the Prophet Ezekiel (33:7-9). People will be judged by their sins, but you will be judged by how you reacted to them and how proactive you were with the sinner.

Now you know.


* I thought the "be fruitful and multiply" bit had to do with this. I have since had my views on the matter adjusted appropriately.