Monday, September 23, 2019

Forgiveness is the beginning of reconciliation

Maybe it's me. But that parable we just heard Deacon Fran read in today's Gospel doesn't sound very Jesus like. You know what I mean? 
In truth, people have been trying to figure out what in the world Jesus was talking about in this Parable of the Dishonest Manager ever since he first spoke it! As far as this story in Luke 16 goes, the Lord works in mysterious ways!

Let's recap.
There are two characters in today's Gospel, a rich man and his manager. The manager has been embezzling funds and taking kickbacks, so the rich man is about to fire him. The manager catches wind of this, so he gets to work. He goes to his master’s clients and he reduces their bills. They are grateful both to the manager and to the rich man who suddenly so generous.
Now let’s be clear here. The manager is not a hero for fixing a problem that he himself created! And you might think that when the rich man found out that his manager had cheated him—again!—he would call for the tar and feathers. But no! Jesus, who is telling this story, said that the “master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” Why? Because “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” And it gets weirder when Jesus says, “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
Uhm. What?
Are you baffled? I am! Jesus words just don’t seem to line up. I mean, there’s nothing in the Sermon on the Mount like, “Blessed are the shrewd, for they shall make eternal homes by means of dishonest wealth.”
Remember, just as Jesus’ parables about farming are not really about farms, neither are his parables about business really about business. At least not the Wharton School sense.
So just what did the manager do that was so terrible? He forgave the clients’ debts! Well, that sort of rings a bell, doesn’t it? How does “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” sound? Yup. That's right! This parable is about forgiveness!
But you know, if I could give Jesus just a little suggestion, it would be this. You know, Jesus, if you wanted to talk about forgiveness, why didn’t you just say, “There was this guy who had a lot of people owing him money. He could have been a jerk about it, but he said, OK, you guys don’t have to pay, and everyone lived happily ever after.”
Because our God is a God who doesn’t let us get away with easy answers. And forgiveness in real life is rarely neat, easy, or simple.
Think of the ways that our relationships can sometimes get all tangled up and snarled. Like the times you’ve been between a rock and a hard place, knowing that any decision you make will hurt someone. Or the times you’ve been driven by circumstances to a place where compromising your integrity seems like a small price to pay if it will just get you out of this mess.
Now Jesus’ story of the Dishonest Manager begins to sound more real, if not more sensible.
Through Jesus’ life, death, and life, God offers forgiveness openly, freely and without restraint. There is nothing we can ever do that will cause us to earn God’s love and, at the same time, nothing can take God’s love away from us! There is no way we will ever be anything less than God’s most cherished children, no matter how many mistakes we make or people we hurt. We are forgiven even before we know we are going to do wrong, because Jesus loved us even unto death.
And knowing that forgiveness is ours for the asking at every step of the way, how can we not want to try it out ourselves?
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” That’s what happens in this parable. The dishonest manager is forgiven even as he forgives others.
 It’s not neat and tidy and clean cut. There are still loose ends and ethical questions and uncertainty. That’s because forgiveness is the beginning of ethics, not the end.
Thank God that we are not God. We are human, and our motives are always mixed. We do not love perfectly. And we mess up even when we’re trying to do the right thing. But holiness of living doesn’t come from never messing up. It comes from depending on God and acknowledging our limitedness and brokenness even as we gradually master the habits of faithful living.
If we waited to forgive each other until we had perfect charity in our hearts, we’d be here until the apocalypse. Jesus says don’t wait till your perfect, just do it. Forgive. Forgive people even if you know they’re wrong. Forgive people when you know you’re wrong. Forgive people when you don’t feel like it, when they aren’t talking to you, when you aren’t talking to them, when you don’t have time. Forgive people you’ve never met, forgive atrocities so big you are afraid to forgive them, forgive faults so small you are ashamed that they bother you. Forgive even if you’ve done it a thousand times; forgive even if you’ve never forgiven before.
Seriously, right now, where you’re sitting, think of someone who is just making you furious or at the very least driving you batty. It could be the guy who cut you off in traffic; it could be your son or daughter who is “throwing their life away.” It could be your spouse who never remembers to take out the garbage. It could be the sibling or friend who hurt and betrayed you so badly that you haven’t spoken in years. Just do it! In your mind, say to that person , “I forgive you.”
Feel better? That's okay. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel anything. Maybe you felt an overwhelming rush of love and grace, or maybe you still feel cranky and self-righteous or just plain mad. Or maybe... meh, nothing! It doesn’t matter. You’ve taken the first step.
You see, isn't a feeling. It's a decision. Forgiveness is the decision to stop organizing your life around another person’s injury to you. It doesn’t mean something bad never happened or that there are no consequences. It doesn't mean that history gets rewritten or that the relationship going forward will suddenly be hunky-dory. Forgiveness means that the injury will no longer be the organizing principal of your life.
When you say, "I forgive," alongside whatever else is in your heart right now – anger, fear, disappointment – there is also a little seed of forgiveness that has sprouted, especially when you begin to realize what it means that God has forgiven you through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus . This is how the Holy Spirit has been gracefully going before you making you ready to forgive and know forgiveness.
There’s a bit of the Dishonest Manager in all of us, wheeling and dealing in front of God and trying to “manage” other people’s feeling. Jesus tells us today that he sees right through all of that and right through us to where "all desires are knows and (where) no secrets are hid" – and forgives us anyway!
Let’s face it. We cannot comprehend God’s forgiveness. But in Christ, we are—against all odds—forgiven! And the grace is that God forgives us even when we can’t forgive others with the generosity and grace that we long for. Taking hold of that unimaginable grace changes us and the way we see others… which is how we can start to forgive others as we’ve been forgiven.

No comments: