Miracle Of Forgiveness
A Series of Homilies
Father Robert E Lucas
St. Paul the Apostle Parish,
Great Fast 2010
Miracles Of Forgiveness
As we are about to think about, pray and meditate on the miracles of forgiveness in the life of Christ during this sacred season, we turn our thoughts to miracles. The word `miracle' is common currency these secularly-laden days. It can easily be applied in current usage to nonsensical show biz triumphs, medical breakthroughs and bizarre coincidences. We are as likely to encounter its usage on the sports page of a newspaper as in a religious text. But it certainly was not always like that.
The miracles of forgiveness began and were initiated with the Birthgiver of God, who by the grace of God became her Maker's maker and her Creator's mother. She contained within her womb the uncontainable God, so she is happily referred to as platitera, she who is more spacious than the heavens! And it all began with her person so that sin could be erased and forgiven.
In this period of secularistic pervasive nonsense abounding, some have tied themselves in knots trying to find rational explanations for the miracle in general and particularly for the miracle of forgiveness. There is no doubt among believers that all miracles are not pure acts of fiction on the part of gospel writers as is evident from secular historians of the first-century describing Jesus as a wonder-worker.
Because He is the son of the living God, Jesus Christ is not limited in any way. Entering the physical world as a perfect human being, He can do all things. For non-believers, Jesus is no more than a gifted preacher and the miracles no more than fanciful hoaxes, or embellished yarns to inspire the faithful.
Miracles to the understanding of genuine believers are deliberate acts of Almighty God with specific purpose and meaning. A new focus is more on what Jesus did than what He said. But to the thinking person, both are convergent on and revelatory of the same truth. His actions and his words tell us the same story. Numerous miracles or signs were worked so to confirm his vocation among us; they are not at variance with each other. He entered the world that man's original transgression and its effects inherited by succeeding generations would be overcome and with repentance, forgiven and forgotten.
Of the four gospel writers, John the Evangelist also known as the Theologian, is the one who most consistently and powerfully refers to Jesus' miracles as "signs." In working these signs Jesus reveals his own divine dignity and awesome glory. At the very conclusion of his gospel narrative, John writes, "Jesus did many other miraculous signs that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" John 20: 30, 31. In SS. Matthew, Mark and Luke's gospels, miracles are often meant to signify the imminent coming of the kingdom of God; in St. John's gospel they are signs of the identity of Jesus. Essentially, they signify that Jesus is the Son of God. The miracles of forgiveness then, do show the imminent coming of God's kingdom in individual hearts and souls and as the final evangelist insists, they give evidence to Jesus Christ not only as Messiah, but as Saviour and Redeemer as well.
Miracles were offered to those who with faith approached him and on their individual and personal account. Miracles were not worked for his own identification, but for the benefit of man. "Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man" John 2: 23 - 25.
What made the miracles of Jesus stand out for people of his time was not that they were enacted in the world, but that God acted in the world in very particular and significant way. He was forever emphasizing forgiveness of sin if the condition of repentance was fulfilled and met. For western secularists today, the miracles of forgiveness can seem less like a language and more like a code. But it is not an uncrackable code. By digging into the details of the gospel accounts and by discovering more about the mindset of first century Jews, scholars have been able to decipher these remarkable stories and accounts and thus shed new light on who Jesus Christ is.
The Knot of Vipers by Francois Mauriac tells the story of a husband and wife who are tangled up in world of unforgiveness and recrimination. Their relationships with their children caused a drift to develop between them. According to her, he had not shown enough concern for their five-year-old daughter when she became ill some thirty years before. According to him, she lived only for her children, paying no attention to him once they were born, and found her purpose in life as a mother, certainly not as wife. And so for years they slept in separate rooms. Neither was willing to take the first step to reconciliation. Each night she would lie awake and wait for him to come. Likewise, he would wait for her to appear in the doorway and offer words of forgiveness. But neither would break the cycle that had begun years before, Unforgiveness described them; they were two individuals living a life of constant exasperation and mutual loathing.
Our wounds are most often caused by allowing someone close to us to inflict them. Like a blunt knife, they tear into our tender psyches. We learn to live with these wounds, getting so used to them that some unresolved matters are off limits for discussion. We avoid them for the sake of pseudo-peace. Life demands that we get around these difficult areas somehow so that we can function as a family, but issues never resolved translate to hurts never healed. A scab may develop for protection, but the infected incision never fully heals and sometimes, continuously but quietly bleeds.
Is there any way to resolve these matters, heal the hurt, stop the bleeding, reunite separated souls kept prisoner in their own worthless values of sinfulness? The only power that can stop the inexorable stream of painful memories is the faculty of forgiveness. It is as simple as that. Forgiveness is God's ability for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. Forgiveness is an experience like none other. It is no wonder that God offers it so eagerly because it is so necessary. There is a reckless clarity in the power of forgiveness and is most familiar in our understanding of the Lord.
It is only the soul of man which has died many deaths and cried many tears of repentance to be able to then come to understand the portrait of God in such humility to embrace a long lost and unworthy son in the parable of the Prodigal.
"Addiction" might be the best word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates contemporary alienated society. Our addictions make us cling to that which the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment and status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink; and sexual gratification falling to the dimension of idolatry, without distinguishing and most often confusing lust and love, thus never understanding either, ascribing to the creature more devotion than to the Creator.
These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live in these worldly delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests and distant strange countries.
Oblivious to the disappointment man causes to the Creator who loves him above all [se, more than anyone else in the world, we then set off on our return journey to the embrace f our Creator God. Because in spite of everything, the fact remains unchanged: we all still have a Father in heaven, regardless how we sin and separate ourselves from him and the other equally true fact is we are and remain a child of God. No matter what happens, we remain daughters or sons of the eternal Father.
Just as the recalcitrant son, there is within us an unbreakable thread of truth, giving hope, "I will go to my Father..." Luke 15: 18. How especially comforting is this truth in time of alienation and separation! That we have a place to go to, to a God we can approach.
Miracles are simply defined and understood as extraordinary events that surpass natural or rational explanations and thus inspire awe and wonder. They are divine interventions and participations that became a closed book with the fullness of revelation. They are an expression of God's self-revealing power and dominion over the forces of nature, an inside look at the working and abiding love of God manifested by the Holy Spirit working in the life of man to render him becoming more fully "the image and likeness of God" Genesis 1: 26.
The miracles of forgiveness are a sign from heaven of hope for all people. Christ assured us He came for all mankind so they are a means whereby God is understood as all-inclusive. Where there is good will, there is grace, bringing that capacity "to wonder", derived from the root Latin, mirari, that is, the essence of hopefulness, growth and serenity, even in adversity and loss. From this perspective we find most miracles come quietly and at need. They reassure us we are not alone in a hostile world, that there is spiritual purpose to our lives, unfolding day by day.
The readiness of God always to forgive sins is a factor repeatedly dwelt upon throughout the length and breadth of his revelation to us in Scripture. It is relied upon with trust by the believer. Prayers for forgiveness are frequent and include reminders of the inclusive love of God for his people. Forgiveness is one of the primary reasons for the establishment of the Church, the Bride of Christ.
Because it was man who departed from the established norm in paradise, because it was man who deviated, because it was man who chose separation from the source of life, reconciliation, apology and forgiveness is totally necessary. Ultimately speaking, therefore, the readiness of our eternal Father to forgive is the outcome of his own attitude towards all his creatures as well as of his relationship with his covenant people in particular.
Forgiveness always presupposes sincere repentance on the part of the sinner; a radical change of heart, a turning away from sin and acknowledgement of the wrongness of his ways which is usually made in public in the life of the Church. The penitent appears seeking forgiveness before the priest confessor.
As long as the prescriptions established by God himself are ignored, God is unable to grant his forgiveness. We are told when forgiveness comes, when the conditions have been met and fulfilled, it has the effect of obliteration of sin completely, covering it, and causing it to be forgotten by the eternal God. The first most important development which the New Testament adds is that forgiveness comes through Christ alone; no personal good-will, no Allah, no Mohammed, no Indian gods or dervishes can forgive man. From the very outset of his earthly minis Jesus claims and exercises the power of forgiveness, vindicating his claim by healing the sick. Forgiveness of sin is, in fact, an integral and primary element in the work of redemption. Jesus' forgiveness presupposes not merely the disposition of sincere and humble repentance mentioned but even perhaps more importantly, faith in Jesus Christ himself and his ability and power to impart the forgiveness of God.
May this sacred season be known to us as the time of forgiveness, the time for reconciliation, the time of apologizing to our God for offending and demeaning our own nature made in his image, for detracting from our dignity and that of others in sinning against them and for denouncing his sovereignty over our lives when we sin. May this be a period and time of purification of soul, of cleansing of conscience and inspiration to live lives of glorifying God without limitation.
The Woman Taken In Adultery
All of the miracles of forgiveness are highly personal. They show the unique relationship between our heavenly Father and each person, and the mysterious way which freely flows from one to the other. Miracles of forgiveness respond to individual, particular and personal need.
The well-known story of the woman taken in adultery shows Christ's transcendence of the Old Law: mercy takes precedence over traditional concepts of justice. Of course, the Ten Commandments, while prohibiting adultery, do not stipulate that it should be punished by stoning to death, which gradually developed into practice. This law was the product of a patriarchal society with rigid structures around bloodlines and inheritance implications because there was no similar provision for stoning prescribed for male adulterers. The scribes and Pharisees who brought the accused woman to Christ for judgment were convicted by their own conscience when He challenged them. "He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." John 8: 7. This profound statement has the basis for a new spiritual principle that encouraged humility and self-examination instead of rash judgment and condemnation. It was underlined by Christ's words to the frightened woman after the accusers drifted away: "...has anyone condemned you? Neither do I condemn you" John 8: 11.
As happens so many times in such encounters, the occasion of sin is most importantly, a time for intervention and rightful thinking: to look into their own consciences for careful scrutiny and examination.
Christ teaches the divine law and reveals himself as the one concerning whom Moses wrote in the law and the prophets prophesized that He was the awaited Messiah, true Christ of the Scripture, and not the Christ of imagination or simple Jewish hope. He is the spring of Living water and imparter of eternal life. His enemies, unable to arrest him, set legal traps for him in order to accuse him as subverter of the law before the people. But Christ easily crushes their superficial interpretation of the law and the entrappers suffered bitter grief as a result of their failure and disgrace.
Our Lord does not challenge their opinion or observation, or even their judgment of the situation with this woman. Unquestionably she is guilty and their senses are correct. But their approach is abysmally wrong; it is not the inspired insight of gracious love which has as its purpose reconciliation, reunion, forgiveness and uplifting inspiration for advancement in holiness even after a fall. Achieving salvation does not consist in collecting grievances and piling them before the accused, but assisting in removing the inclination to sin and overcoming its effects by the grace of Christ. Thus the Lord is frustrated by the lack of charity in the hearts of the Pharisees and scribes as well as their true lack of grasping the meaning of reconciliation with God as a result of slipping and dropping to temptation.
Man, created in the image of his Maker is to encourage and affirm one another, not condemn and literally destroy. Being found in the same circumstances as the abject sinner, all men should recognize themselves and become instruments of change for the positive in God's sight. What aroused the Lord's anger is the fact that these mean saw no farther than their sinful noses which were smothered by guilt. They were allied in their thinking and thus, lifestyle, with the enemy of man, the devil. They were not serving the purpose of their Creator God. They were not parts of the solution for man's earthly problems, but partners of his destruction. Since they did not contribute to man's restoration in the sight of God, they were a serious hindering part of the problems man faces on earth. Their thinking was not only askew, but downright dangerous.
It is only our God who offers us forgiveness and subsequent salvation. It is the devil who tempts, seduces and eventually triumphs in our lives if we are not aware of the subtleties of his approach. "For even satan disguises himself as an angel of light. It becomes no surprise that his ministers disguise themselves as ministers of the justice of God, but their end will correspond with their deeds" 2 Corinthians 11: 14. He inspires us to think of ourselves as pure and innocent, better than most so that we become prideful and deluded in our self-estimation. It is true that pride comes before the fall as Scripture attests.
They accuse the woman as the devil accuses us before the Lord. He seduces us, laughs at us when we fall victim to his suggestions and then runs before God to witness to our stupidity. Scripture verifies, "For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who night and day accused them before our God" Revelation 12: 10. The role they were playing was not that of God, was not that of gracious mercy and goodness, but as cooperators with the devil and his evil works. We note then, from God's revelation to us that the devil is overcome, is cast down. Jesus comes "...that by his death he might rob the devil, the prince of death, of his power and free those who through fear of death had been slaves their whole life long" Hebrews 2: 14. Jesus understands that "The man who sins belongs to the devil, because the devil is a sinner from the beginning. It was to destroy the devil's works that the Son of man revealed himself' I John 3: 8.
Christ does not come to condemn, but to invite to salvation. "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" John 3: 17. He does not come among us to condemn or destroy us; He comes to stay the wrath of the law and establishes the right to grace toward salvation of repentant sinners. Hence, Jesus could never say, "Stone this women; Aim rightly. Get a bigger stone." And his enemies, knowing this, brought the woman before him so that, through her, they might censure him for promulgating and making popular doctrine opposed to their notions of the law.
Jesus stops to write something in the sand with his finger. What does he write? He obviously writes of the right of grace, whereby the guilty woman is saved from the wrath of the law. His questioners demanded an oral answer, and insisted upon it, not realizing what Jesus was writing on the ground, and why He wrote instead of answering them directly and immediately. He permits them to ruminate and expose the values of their soul. We can only infer the Lord writes on the sand in the same way they make their accusations. What they verbalize has no value or lasting meaning. Condemning a person is not the way of Christ. Apparently, He is showing them what their contention and understanding is worth. It may be verbalized, but it dissipates in the wind. The sandstorms of the desert will contribute to its value and blow it away. The old and venerable incisive Russian proverb characterizes it best: "Dogs bark and the wind carries it away." What is written in the sand lasts only until the next wind blows the particles or grains around and its understanding does not endure. There is no remaining message for inspiration and affirmation. It is not eternal wisdom of heaven.
"But when they persisted asking him, He lifted up himself and said to them, `he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her' And again he stooped down and wrote on the ground" John 8: 7.
The reply of the Lord is unblamable according to the law and renders the entire law unfulfillable in view of the fact that all are guilty and as a result, sinful. By means of this wise answer Jesus both saved the woman from legal condemnation and frustrated Lie intention of those who wished to entrap him, who were unable to accuse him of releasing the
All the accusers of the woman were guilty of sin and deserved the death penalty according to law. Obviously all are in need of the right of grace toward salvation, the right which Jesus writes on the ground as the underpinning and foundation of man's life on earth and which is made available to all baptized people in the life of his body the Church.
No one was justified by stoning the woman before stoning himself, being, like the woman, guilty and condemned by his own conscience. And also all of them realizing that they had not right to stone the women before stoning themselves, departed, leaving the prescriptions of the law unfulfilled. Thus was the woman saved from the wrath of the law, and the evangelical statute of grace instituted; "judge not so that you will not be judged; forgive and you shall be forgiven; release and you shall be released" Matthew 7: 1. The right of grace which Jesus wrote on the ground was fully applied in the case of the adulteress and the penalty of the law as suspended, so that after repentance and abandonment of sin, the women might be saved forever.
These accusing men did not condemn the woman, for they were reproved themselves and stung by their own conscience and just as guilty and deserving death themselves. So neither does the just and sinless Jesus condemn her because through her He institutes and applies the right of grace we receive in our baptismal initiation. Jesus comes among us to save human lives and not lose them; He comes to call sinners to repentance that they be saved and not perish forever. And so in this instance He acts in accordance with his mission, saying to the guilty woman, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more" John 8: 11. I have saved you from the wrath of the law; have saved you from death by stoning; in order that you may live in the future in wisdom and holiness, seriously and sincerely avoiding forever deadly sin. Thus sinful man, through the right of grace, becomes in the future, righteous, holy, sinless, God-like for all eternity. By means of the right of grace man is freed from the slavery of sin and submits to God's righteousness, identifies with heavenly glory and as St. Paul says: "Having been freed from sin you have become the servants of righteousness" Romans 6: 18. In the service of righteousness there is true freedom and the safe assurance of freedom, for the righteousness is absolutely free.
Subsequently, our Lord announces He is the Light of the world and insists that anyone who follows him shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life. During his teaching at Capemaum, which took place after the blessing of five loaves, Jesus reveals himself as the Bread of eternal life, saying, "I am the living bread which comes down from heaven; if any man eats of this bread, he shall live forever and the bread which I give is my flesh for the life of the world" John 6 51. And on the last day of the great feast of Tabernacles, He reveals himself as the eternal spring of living water, saying "If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. He that believes in me as the Scripture says, out of him shall flow rivers of living water" John 7: 37.
And now after the application of the right of grace in the case of the adulteress, He reveals himself as the light of the world, saying "I am the light of the world; he who follows me shall not walk in darkness and shall have the light of life" John 8: 12.
Thus the way to perpetuating a life of holiness, an enlightened life and a life of sanctity is in imbibing his precious Blood and being nourished on his most sacred Body in the sacramental Mystery of the Eucharist, which is the source and apex of all holiness. Thus immersed in the grace of sacramental living, we are led away from devilish thinking, from darkness, from the path of sin, to walk with Christ in the light of salvation.
That is the purpose of this sacred season, traveling with Christ and living with him, thinking as He does, transforming ourselves with the grace of the Holy Spirit, accompanying him in life in this world toward an endless eternity where we achieve our rightful destiny and live and reign with him forever.
The Healing Pool
At the healing pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, all of the people with infirmities who hoped for a cure are described as powerless. The man who Christ addresses has been unable to walk for thirty-eight years, nearly an entire lifetime in the New Testament era. It is significant that Christ does not ask him whether he wants to walk, but whether he wants to get well. It seems that Christ discerned a problem deeper than that of physical paralysis, perhaps a fear of taking on the responsibility that comes with being empowered rather than remaining powerless. This idea is borne out by Christ's words to the newly healed man when He meets him later in the temple: "Behold you are made whole; sin no more lest a worst thing befall you" John 5: 14.
Compounding the entire scenario is the fact this encounter and the heavenly sign takes place on the Sabbath. Consequently, the Jewish religious leaders are horrified that the Lord is "working" on this day on which all labor is to be forgotten. But we recall the response of the Saviour in St. Mark's gospel under the same circumstances. "Then he turned to his critics and asked, `Is it legal to do good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing harm? Is this a day to save life or destroy it?"' Mark 3: 4. Our Lord thus makes plain we can sin in two ways: by actual commission of an evil deed, or neglecting to do a good one. We can sin just as seriously by omission if we have the opportunity to do good, but neglect to pursue it.
It is entirely possible to make the case that Jesus was crucified because He broke the accumulated minute endless rules about the Sabbath. He challenged a tradition run amuck. At times, we sense some that religious leaders were setting a trap for him. At other times, He seemed to revel in the opportunity to break and challenge their stodgy lack of understanding of God's revelation to them. Jesus dared to say that the religious leaders had missed the point when it came to the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a gift from God to be used as a means for rest, for worship, for glorification, for praise and worship of God the Creator. "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" Mark 2: 27. Many of those who heard him preferred to leave the Sabbath as an end in itself. They were all about rules and endless regulations and He was all about restful, healthy living in which obviously forgiveness and separation from sin is vital and important.
Jesus is accused of breaking the Sabbath by those who did not hesitate to break people made in God's image. They charged him with not taking the Sabbath seriously when they didn't take it seriously enough themselves. For Jesus, setting people free from diseases and sin were the most relaxing, restful and worship-filled moments of any day and He was not about to forego that pleasure on the one day of the week specially set aside for restful pursuits. What greater reason could participants and witnesses of this heavenly sign have for glorifying and praising God?
This man was gravely afflicted both physically and spiritually. Christ enters the place where lay a great multitude of sick folks, blind, lame, withered in muscle and being the physician both of body and soul, and having come to heal all the souls of them who would believe, of those sick folks, He chooses one for healing, for integration once again with the dignity and destiny of all mankind. He unifies the body and soul of this poor neglected forlorn man. If in doing this we regard him with a commonplace mind, with the mere human understanding and wit as regards power, it was to a greater matter that He performed; and also as regard goodness, He performed too little. There lay so many there and yet only one was healed and forgiven, while our Lord could by a word have raised them all up.
What then, must we understand but that the power and goodness was doing what souls might, by his deeds, understand for their everlasting salvation, than what bodies might gain for temporal health? For that which is the real health of bodies and which is looked for from the Lord, will be at the end, in the resurrection of the dead, whose sublime prerequisite is forgiveness of sin.
Why does Jesus ask this man if he wishes to be made well? Wasn't it obvious, given his position near the pool, why this crippled man was even present? It is an honest question, in other words, asking, "Are you content with your condition? Are you willing to put yourself in my hands? Are you willing to change? Are you willing to repent of your sins and be restored as a child of God?"
Surprisingly, some social scientists have found that some people really do not want to change. Some people do not want to be made well. Some people do not wish to relinquish their sins and follow the Lord. Some people wish to remain as they are, obdurate in heart and
soul so they can enjoy what they judge to be the pleasures of this life. Some people enjoy what they are doing in their sinful lives so much they would never consider advancing into a life of holiness. Some people who fall in the mud do not want to rise. Some people wish to remain in the gutter because it suits their purposes.
Not everyone wants beneficial change. So that is why Jesus asks the crippled man lying near the pool at Bethesda if he wanted to be made well. The man at the pool was simply hoping Jesus might help him get into the water. But Jesus did far more than that. He heals him on the spot and the man gets up and walks. In the presence of the Lord, he does not need a prod into the turbulent water.
For many, many years, the cry in the heart of so many people is "Why me, God?" It fills their thoughts and affects their attitude daily. They lie in the wilderness of self-pity and it becomes a problem for all who surround them: their family, their loved ones, their friends, even all who encounter them in the daily exercise of business, particularly frustrating the plan of our heavenly Father for their life. These people have to realize self-pity will not deliver us from anything, but deliver us to greater difficulty and separation. "Do you want to get well" John 5: 6? are words of compassion to anyone who is trapped in an emotional prison and who has learned to function well with their problem. These words of the Lord are words directed at the heart of all men. We should not and cannot be happy distressed with an affliction; we ought wait patiently and seek a solution from our God, ever believing He uses our circumstances to make known his glory and exalts our dignity by allowing us to participate in the manifestation of heavenly love among us.
Gaining freedom from hurts and emotional bondage is not easy. It provokes feelings and emotions that have been "stuffed" and "swallowed" rather than faced and dealt with. It does involve real pain, but to be free and cleansed by the power of forgiveness which is the only way to ever be fully well again.
The authority of Jesus is demonstrated in both his teaching and his healing miracles that are signs of the power of Almighty God to change lives for the better. The surprising events that occur in the presence of the Lord are not done as tricks to astound people. They result from his caring for people and his obedience to the will of the eternal Father. The person in need is confronted by the person who loves him and is completely obedient to the will of the Father. This presence of Jesus and the trust and faith of those whom He confronts, allows these acts of God's power to occur. This relationship is central and vital. Where these elements are present, the obedience of Jesus and his love for the Father, and the willingness of a person to have faith and trust in God, all evil can and is overcome and God is recognized and glorified.
Do you wish to be healed? That is the question we ask today. Do you wish to be set free from your sins? Do you want the kind of relationship that only God can offer you? Do you want the crippling burdens of guilt and sin to be removed? Do you want to stand tall and walk in the path of salvation? It is the same question asked by the Lord today. "Do you want to be healed?" Come, then, this Saturday to the Penitential Services after which healing of soul and body takes place in conjunction with our sincere and serious confession of sin. Never forget that Jesus is still in the business of making you well, if you will only trust him. Jesus will forgive your sins if you only apologize. Jesus can raise you from the confessional kneeler a new and remade person, born-again souls, so that his image shines brightly before the angels of heaven.
It is the narrow limits of our faith that keep us imprisoned in the jail of the devil with our sins. The diseased man does what almost all of us are wont to do; for he limits according to his own thinking the assistance God can provide. In this we have a mirror of that perseverance and forbearance of which every one of us has daily experienced: when, on the one hand, we keep our attention fixed on the means which are within our reach, that is the convenient availability of the sacramental Mystery of Reconciliation in our parish church, and when, on the other hand, and contrary to expectation, our God displays his hand from hidden places and thus shows how far his goodness goes beyond the narrow limits of our faith.
In addition, this example of God's forgiveness of this man's sins and his restoration to genuine living ought to teach us patience. Thirty eight years were a long period during which God delayed to render to this poor man that favor which from the beginning, He had determined to confer on him. However long, therefore, we may be held in suspense, though we groan under our distresses, even to ourselves, let us never be discouraged by the tediousness of the lengthened period which we impose on ourselves. For when our afflictions are long continued, though we discover no termination of them, still we ought always to believe that God is a marvelous and wonderful deliverer who, by his power easily removes every obstacle in our way.
Let us not only prepare for, but participate in the raining and showering down from heaven of easy forgiveness if we but repent; if we but inspire sorrow for our sins within ourselves. All the infractions in which we participate can be forgiven and forgotten. All the sins in which we indulged can be rendered obliterated if our soul cries out for forgiveness. May we all have the grace necessary to approach worthily the God who is so eager to pardon and forget. May we all have the necessary grace to come to the Father who wants to reconcile us with himself by accepting our sincere apology in confession.
Christ Forgives His Executioners
With the most sublime compassion and mercy, our blessed Saviour addresses to the Eternal Father a petition concerning those around him who contributed to his agony and death on the cross saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" Luke 23: 34. Amid the delirium of the great company of people who bewailed and lamented his predicament, the Lord maintains an equanimity of soul as He also expresses heart-rending concern reminding them unbelieving hearts will have a horrendous time explaining their opposition to his salutary gospel.
Never in the history of man has it been recorded in similar circumstances where an innocent victim of fabricated crime has been so openly eager to grant absolution and amnesty to his oppressors. Never has the example of forgiveness been so openly expressed. Never was that forgiveness graciously offered, been so desperately needed.
Nowhere in the New Testament is there a record of Christ refusing a sincere request for forgiveness of sin. These signs were worked to show the universal compassion and power of God personified in Christ. There were a number of similar threads running through the entire fabric of those who asked for Christ's intervention against sin in their lives and who were willing to believe He could help, He could forgive and He wanted to do so. Secondly, all who experienced and received the lifting of overwhelming burdensome weight in their lives had been disempowered in some way by the circumstances of their lives to which they eagerly succumbed and then apathetically cooperated in distancing themselves from the Font of Grace.
How often was He accused of blasphemy by granting forgiveness of sin since only God can forgive sin? Jealous of his influence and his overwhelming and warmly shown love, the enemies of God were jealous of his influence and alarmed by what they called "new teachings" of God's universal love and mercy because their status was being threatened. In revealing himself for who He is, Christ faced the risk that we all do: that of rejection and hostility. In assuming our humanity, He also takes on our vulnerability. We see this when He asked one of the ten lepers, the only one who returned to thank him: "Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine" Luke 17: 17? His emotions, his feelings were involved, but his primary concern was that our heavenly Father should be glorified at every level. Thus He can dispatch all with the same words, "Go in peace and sin no more lest something worst befalls you" John 5: 14.
There was no genuine conviction in the minds and souls of the Jewish leaders which inspired them to be so unabashedly Jesus-haters. They were protecting their own position which they imagined more important than salvation or living the truth. Thus then, it is no surprise we observe from the cross that our Saviour also is moved to grant forgiveness to his tormentors and murderers. The universality of Christ's healing and saving mission is affirmed in its finality on the cross. His hope was that all mankind would learn about the truth of God's loving and living revelation in Scripture and be challenged to live up to its lofty precepts. Just as He particularly delivers so many from the company of satan, so from the cross He delights to literally quash the power of the devil by showing those with even a little faith response can be drawn into the merciful orbit of our God and thereby saved for eternity.
Not only is salvation to be brought to the Chosen People, to the Jews of the Covenant, but to the entire world. And it this point that so offended many otherwise pious Jews, that our God would go beyond them and draw to himself even those outside Israel that the tables at the eternal banquet would always be filled. Thus we see in the example of the Greek woman who seeks freedom from an "unclean spirit." Hearing of Christ's presence in the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, she comes to his place of lodging where St. Mark tells us, "He could not be hidden" Mark 7: 24. There she implores him to free her child of possession. Christ raises her expectancy and arouses her to respond from the depth of her heart and soul, by telling her that the children of Israel had the first claim upon him, but she is not at all discouraged from her appeal, even comparing herself to a dog that might eat of the crumbs that fall from the children's table. Deeply moved by this woman of humility and trust, Christ sends her home with a promise, "the devil is gone out of your daughter" Mark 7: 29. Healed and made well, both mother and daughter become his most fervent disciples.
Another story of deliverance from sin is set in the synagogue of Capernaum where the man who addresses Christ appears to be controlled by an evil spirit, described as "a spirit of an unclean devil, who shows fear in Christ's presence. "Let us alone," it demands, "What have we to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Are you come to destroy us? I know who you are; the Holy One of God" Jesus rebukes the unseen power and commands it to leave the man. "And when the devil had thrown him in the midst he came out of him and hurt him not" Mark 1: 24 - 26. Here we see that even the powers of hell recognize Christ as the Son of God. And on the other hand, these children of man, those ennobled by their membership in the Old Covenant Church find it so difficult to overcome their own prejudices and limitations and self-interpretations so that in looking upon what the Saviour does, they see but a revolution, a truth-shatterer and a renegade eager to destroy their vanity of lives and thinking.
By the miracles of forgiveness of sin Scripture overcomes for us our own limitations, our own isolation, to confront the mystery of evil and suffering in the world by showing that evil itself can be transformed into good. The evil perpetrated on the Son of God at the height of Golgotha, can be changed into salutary purposeful and praiseworthy action, not only for the few individuals who were directly responsible for the death of the Saviour, but for the entire human community. How many pray for spiritual healing and receive it! Others accept the power to remain in their condition as an opportunity for spiritual growth and strengthened relationships with family, friends and fellow believers. Thus our Lord address the entire cohort surrounding him, Jew and Gentile alike with their witness of this ultimate act of faith so they can come to understand that there are no sins so serious and profound that they cannot only be healed, but even annihilated by the death of the Son of God.
How many think about and ask, "Could not our God have simply pronounced forgiveness? Was it necessary for Christ to go through the painful process of torturous dying?" If our heavenly Father simply pronounced forgiveness, that would make forgiveness cheap, just worth a few rods, a humiliation of body and soul. Our sin is too serious for such a response. We too, are too significant for our wrongdoing to be taken so lightly. People who have not been corrected during their childhood, whose wrongdoing has been regarded lightly, will invariably, be insecure people. Subconsciously, they reason that if they were significant, really worth something in the sight of their parents, were significant individuals, their actions would be taken seriously and corrected if that was found necessary.
"Upon him was the punishment that made us whole" Isaiah 53: 5. Because our God regards us as significant and valuable people, He cannot simply pronounce forgiveness for our sins. They must be corrected adequately. And of course, Jesus accepted the punishment because God knew that if we were to keep it on ourselves, there would be no hope for us. Besides, to simply forgive, would make a mockery of justice. A world without justice is an insecure and chaotic place. He is right, there is right and wrong; there is morality and irnmorality and it must be distinguished. If there is a price to pay for immorality and sin, there is a gracious and generous reward for right and virtue. And when wrong is done, it is serious, so God had to do something serious about the challenge we flung in his face in paradise when Adam and Eve violated themselves and wasted our inheritance and led us out in grand procession into the darkness and intimidation of the world., in separation from our Creator and our God.
`'All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" Isaiah 53: 6. The word "suffer" carries not only the everyday meaning of bearing pain, but also the other and wider sense of being the object affected by someone else's action. The Latin is "passio," from which the noun, "passion" is derived. Both God and man are agents of the passion of Jesus. "...this Jesus, delivered up according to the plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men" Acts of the Apostles 2: 23, which we heard in Peter's first sermon at Pentecost. God's purpose at the cross was as real as was the guilt of the crucifiers. God wants to forgive as much, even far more than the enemies of God wanted to rebel and to kill!
So what is the purpose of our heavenly Father, what is the purpose of the Lord in offering forgiveness to all if they would but repent, in asking the Father to cancel out, to blot out the guilt of the conspirators in so heinous a crime? It was for the sake of imparting mercy to sinners, to each of us, regardless of the circumstances of our oppression in life, we must assume the heart and mind of God and align ourselves with forgivers. Jesus knew on the cross all the pain, physical, mental, spiritual, psychological that man can inflict and also the divine wrath and rejection that our sin deserves; for He was in their place, reconciling us with the Father through his death. "All we, like sheep have gone astray ... and the Lord has laid on him the iniquities of us all" Isaiah 53: 6.
Christ offers forgiveness so we will be emptied of our sins, so we come to recognize and understand the worst we can do is not as great as the most God can do in pardon and forgiveness and remission. "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin" Romans 6: 6. Part of our passion comes from the daily realization that we are not so much sinners, but that we can be transformed into winners. To the victor go the spoils and we enjoy every benefit of the victory that was won on Golgotha when Christ defeats death. Now we need only surrender fully to him and serve under his command. When we realize that our future is secured, that there is no way the devil can snatch us from God's hands if we truly belong to him, we take on the positive and exuberant spirit of champions in Christ.
But how do we surrender? As we share in Christ's victory, we share in his crucifixion. As we become Christians of better and better quality, we are crucified with him and we rise with him. Thus in forgiving us from the cross, we are elevated in anticipation, Christ expects us to be inspired and strengthened by his forgiving grace and to eagerly respond to his first shown love, to ally ourselves with him as victor, as participants in salvation triumph. This means that the self-defeating part of us, the rebelliousness, the strife, the resentment, the selfishness, the slavery to our lusts; all these things are nailed to the cross with Christ. It is the sum of these evils, what is called the old self, that is crucified. Then as surely as Christ rose in perfect form on the third day, we rise again to walk in newness of life, impassioned with the spirit of victors and champions.
Let us remember our Lord has struggled and won; our Lord has died and forgiven; our Lord reminds us to join him in victory so that we never forget even for an instant, we no longer struggle with an immortal enemy, with a winning enemy, but with a defeated enemy! Christ has won the fight and calls us to be one with him!
The Conversion of St. Paul
Saul, breathing out threats and promising slaughter against the disciples of Jesus Christ goes to the high priest and secures letters from him as an introduction to Jewish authorities in Damascus synagogues since there was more than ample rumor that Christians were multiplying there among devout Jews. He is so adamant in his opposition to Christianity; he is so zealous in personality to go and round them up and return them bound to Jerusalem to face trial and death for abandoning Old Testament teachings. He could not grasp that those among the Jews who followed the Saviour were in reality looking forward to the fulfillment, the fullness, the completion and totality of Jewish revelation to occur. They wanted the entire panorama of God's revelation given to them that its blessings might be enjoyed not only in this life, but in the next and enduring one as well.
So the zealot journeys with an entourage and as he approaches Damascus, "There shined about him a light from heaven" Acts of the Apostles 9: 3. He is struck to the ground, knocked from astride his horse and he hears an unfamiliar, yet unmistaken voice saying, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Acts of the Apostles 9: 4. He is aghast. Never would this scenario have occurred to him. He was a Jewish Pharisee, one who believed he understood the Law and revelation of God. But he recognizes more than just a human voice, more than just a reverberation of meaningful sounds from heaven. So he responds, somewhat reserved, "Who are you, Lord?" And the Lord said, `I am Jesus whom you persecute; go into the city where you will be told what to do"' Acts of the Apostles 9: 5.
His traveling companions stood there shocked and speechless. No doubt they too heard the voice. Saul is helped up from the ground and is stricken blind, to show how limited had been his spiritual sight when he could not recognize the reality and truth of the Saviour, so now it would be brought to his attention. Thus they take him by the hand and lead him walking, trudging to Damascus. And for some three days he continues in blindness, during which time he neither eats nor drinks anything, so overwhelmed and frightened is he of the astounding circumstances of life which brought him to this strange situation and place.
Christ is the ocean in which every drop is infinite compassion. He is the mountain towering above other mountains in which every grain is God's own goodness. Out of his magnanimous heart, He pours himself into the needy yet eager heart and soul of Saul the zealot. His innate gifts will now be used for drawing souls to salvation instead of separating them from the will of our heavenly Father. As he lies there on the ground, stunned, he is able to sense God's awareness of everything about him and something else that frightens him even more ... to Christ, Saul is not an object. His life matters and his talents are important and rightly gifted, and suddenly Saul sees clearly how he misused everything he had been given. How sharply contrasted with his life is the intruding message from the Lord: "We are all sinners, `caught' in the act by our heavenly Father if by no one else. Thank God for his glorious forgiveness!"
St. Paul is shocked by the response of the Lord. He does not provide any of the usual answers; instead, He offers a surprising and positive alternative. Although he could not verbalize it, someone was shouting praise to God, and he finally realized it was a singing voice within the recesses of his soul, babbling about the wonder of everything ... the power of God was something to see and experience! Now he knows God's love is not drawn out by our lovableness, but wells up like an artesian spring, from the depths of his nature.
Unlike the Prodigal Son, Saul does not have the gall to come crawling with nothing begging forgiveness. He was too stunned to be angry like the older son. He was so overwhelmed he could not be consumed with rage. You would think a seething tide threatened to drown him. The myriad thoughts that swirled like a winter storm wind through his mind only led to more confusion. How could the God of the universe overlook what He had been doing? How could the God who counts the hairs on our heads now direct him on another salutary path? How could God possibly use him to advance the kingdom on earth? What good could he be redirected to do?
Later, after climbing the mount of salvation, he would himself write for our edification, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against the irreligious and perverse spirit of man, who in this perversity of theirs, hinder the truth. In fact, whatever can be known about God is clear to them; He himself made it so. Since the creation of the world, invisible realities, God's eternal power and divinity have become visible, recognized through the things he made. Therefore these men are inexcusable" Romans 1: 18, 20. No wonder then, he could offer advice for our serious consideration, "Keep careful watch over your conduct; do not act like fools, but be as wise men" Ephesians 5: 15. Perhaps he did not consider the veracity of God's assertion in the Old Testament, "The way of the fool is right in his own eyes" Proverbs 12: 15. Finally, then on this awesome day, the Creator God encounters Saul with unmistaken truth: "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" John 1: 17; "You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free" John 8: 32. A challenge in the entire corpus of events is offered the dethroned Pharisee: "...narrow is the gate that leads to life, how rough the road, and how few there are that find it" Matthew 7: 14!
The Apostle Paul, becomes one of the greatest followers of Christ who ever lived and he testified that at one time he was foolish: "We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, and far from the true faith; we were the slaves of our passions and of pleasures of all kinds. We went our way in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another" Titus 3: 3, 4. St. Paul, speaking of the time he was strictly `religious,' but sadly lost, as he was a dedicated Pharisee of the "...strictest sect..." Acts of the Apostles 26: 5, hating those who followed the Lord of salvation. "I once thought it was my duty to oppose the name of Jesus in every possible way.... I sent many of God's holy people to prison" Acts of the Apostles 26: 10, 11. "I persecuted this new way to the point of death. I arrested and imprisoned both men and women" Acts of the Apostles 22: 4; "You know I went to extremes in persecuting the Church of Christ and tried to destroy it" Galatians 1: 13.
So we see that because he was possessed of religious fervor for Judaism that he persecuted Christians and put them to death; but later he was able to admit, "I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, a man filled with arrogance; but because I did not know what I was doing in my unbelief, I have been treated mercifully, and the grace of the Lord has been granted to me ...1 Timothy 1: 13.
Before St. Paul made his irrevocable commitment to Christ, he was foolish, disobedient and deceived. Yet, while killing Christians, he believed himself to be practicing his Judaic religious convictions, which in reality he was doing. He maintained he was possessed of a clear conscience. "I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God" Acts of the Apostles 23: 1. There are so many today who feel comfortable with their personal interpretation of Christ's faith. The clear problem is that all too often, they do not quite grasp the entire deposit of faith which our Lord entrusted to the care of his Church. Consequently, like St. Paul before his conversion, these people follow their own feelings and their own misunderstandings and do not even realize they are in error. Their attitude is that if they feel good about what they are doing, they should pursue it. Because they are ticklish, they want to be tickled!
But Saul did not then belong to the Lord. He did not give much credence to the assertion of the Old Testament Jeremiah, "More torturous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it" Jeremiah 17: 9? nor to the truth of Solomon, "With close custody guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life" Proverbs 4: 23.
So the Lord pursues Saul like a hound dog. How many books have been written about the Lord as Hound of Heaven! It is the Lord who created and gifted Saul and it is the Lord who wants Saul's gifts used for God's glory. So the Lord invites him to repentance in a most dramatic way. At first Saul will not listen. Saul tries to ignore him, but God does get his attention with a flash of lightning. God knocks Saul off his horse! That is sure to get his attention! Because he was finally become serious in his response to God's open and compelling invitation, his was but one life, but look at the significant effect he had on the world. How many people he brought to the Lord!
Can we with him profess, "The life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me" Galatians 2: 20?
Peter Is Forgiven His Denial
Instead of condemning and judging people for their sins, Christ sets an example of forgiving when heartfelt repentance is present. Shortly after his Resurrection in triumph from the dead, Christ shows He can forgive Peter for his threefold denial that he knew Christ and was one of his disciples. Driven by overwhelming fear, the stalwart in appearance Peter dissociated himself from Christ after the arrest and then had gone out and "wept bitterly." In this post-Resurrection appearance, Christ shows He has already forgiven Peter and offers him the opportunity and chance to forgive himself.
Our God knows that many times we sin so heinously, even after asking for and securing the forgiveness of our God, we do not forgive ourselves and we cling to the guilt that should have dissipated when words of absolution were pronounced. We get into a frame of mind that likes and enjoys continued punishment and there is always the danger we deny the veracity of God's claim to cleanse and renew us. We persist in living as if we are a dangerous horror, and become enemies to ourselves and the truth of the Lord. When God forgives, He forgets. We must also learn that the worst of our sins cannot overwhelm the least of God's mercies on our soul. We cannot and should not interfere with the workings of grace without endangering the destiny of our soul. Our Maker looks upon us with pity. Should we not truthfully consider its reality and necessity in our lives?
He asks Peter three times, in imitation of the triune denial of Peter after the arrest and initial trial, "Do you love me?" so that his previous denials would be wiped out by his reaffirmation of love and loyalty in the precise way they were initiated. Perhaps it is because we so many times, like the disciples after the Resurrection itself, do not recognize the Lord speaking words of comfort and forgiveness to us upon presenting him with our heartfelt repentance. When the disciples were fishing following the return-to-life of the Saviour, He spoke to them from the shore. It is recorded that "Then the disciple Jesus loved cried out to Peter, `It is the Lord!"' John 21: 7. Although it is the priestly confessor we envision in the sacramental Mystery of Reconciliation because of the reverberation of his power packed words, it is truly Christ present, speaking through the lips of the priest. How gracious is the provision made by our God for us sinners in peril. How wondrous the grace from heaven which descends and cleanses the besmirched soul in need. How marvelous the provision provided the Church to do away with sin once contrition is expressed!
Ours ought be the response of the disciples when invited to breakfast near the sea. God's revelation tells us, "Not one of the disciples presumed to inquire, `Who are you?' for they knew it was the Lord" John 21: 12. May our endangered faith be restored, may our fervent eagerness for cleansing the soul be rightly accepted. May the gift of faith not be questioned nor the presence of Christ in the sacramental Mystery of Reconciliation. May ours be the quality of faith experienced by the beleaguered disciples in a joyful moment.
Then when they had eaten the meal, Jesus speaks to them and Simon Peter in particular. "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others?' 'Yes, Lord,' he said, `you know that I love you.' At which time, Jesus says, `Feed my lambs."' John 21: 15. How relieved must be the heart and soul of the rugged disciple. Having suffered humiliation and abject guilt for his sins, he sees the Lord approach him without any dejected or disappointed spirit. What can he expect? What will be the verdict about his continuing dignity in the apostolic college? Does he still have a chance? He sees all the disciples looking at them both. This scene is not a private one, but most open for obvious scrutiny because its lessons are so vital and important.
"A second time he puts his question, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' 'Yes Lord,' Peter said, `you know that I love you.' Jesus replied, "Tend my sheep."' John 21: 16. Peter is beginning to be reassured. But where does the questioning lead? What else will the Saviour say? Why doesn't He just express the anxiety-producing response Peter expects? When will He drop the literal bomb and let Peter know his status? How long will the Lord take? Are the witnessing disciples gloating? Should they even gloat? After all, they disappeared completely and did not give themselves the chance to deny the Saviour in public because they were terrified in their privacy! Who knows what was going on in their minds? Is the Master going to turn to them as well? Why is Peter being sought out singly? Why is his behavior response so vital?
"A third time Jesus asked him, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' Peter was hurt because he asked him a third time, `do you love me?' So he said to the Lord, `Lord, you know everything. You know well that I love you.' Jesus said to him, `Feed my sheep.' Then he continued, `I tell you solemnly, as a young man you fastened your belt and went about as you pleased; but when you are older you will stretch out your hands and another will tie you fast and carry you off against your will.'...when Jesus finished speaking, he said to him, `Follow me"' John 21: 17- 19.
Peter began to show his petulance, his exasperation, his short temper and shallowness, but the Lord continues with unabashed forgiveness and even understanding. It is the weakness of Peter; it is the short-sightedness of the fisherman; it is the simple-lived humanity of the citizen of Galilee called to be a citizen of eternity. He still does not recognize the transition he must make from the limitations of this life to the unparalleled glory of eternity. No more will he fish for a living, but will be preoccupied with preparing souls for the newly revealed kingdom of heaven. Here on the plain, his view must be extended beyond the mountains and the sea to the never-ending and unlimited mansions of the Triune God. Now he no doubt recalls when the Lord predicted his denial months before when he asked, "Lord, Simon Peter said to him, `where do you mean to go?' Jesus answered, `I am going where you cannot follow me now; later on you shall come after me"' John 13: 36. How could Peter ever forget the conversation? "Lord,' Peter said to him, `why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!' `You will lay down your life for me, will you?' Jesus answered. `I tell you truly, the rooster will not crow before you have three times denied and disowned me"' John 13: 37, 38.
Peter learns the hard way about the truth of God's Kingdom. His restored faith invigorates him. He is to become the exemplar of living devotion to the Son of God in spite of his initial failure. In his own writings, he summarizes his own condition, like that of all men. "All mankind is grass, and the glory of men is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of the Lord endures forever" I Peter 1: 24. Worldly values would have allowed him to continue his path once he had stumbled and fallen, but he was called by the Lord, he was marked by God for himself as we all are in our baptism and chrismation, so he can say to us with conviction, "Come to him ... precious in God's eyes" 1 Peter 2: 4. He believes and then lives the assertion "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own to proclaim the glorious works of the One who called you from darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people, but now you are God's people; once there was no mercy for you, but now you have found mercy" 1 Peter 2: 9, 10. It is out of his own personal experience he speaks so effectively and convincingly.
He goes on as a reminder for us, "Already you have devoted enough time to what the pagans enjoy, living lives of debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and wanton idolatry. It is no wonder that those blasphemers are surprised when you do not plunge into the same swamp of profligacy as they. They shall give an accounting to him who stands to judge the living and the dead" 1 Peter 4: 3 - 5. "Do not be surprised, beloved that trial by fire is occurring in your midst. It is a test for you, but it should not catch you off guard. Rejoice instead, in the measure that you share Christ's sufferings. When his glory is revealed, you will rejoice exultantly. Happy are you when you are insulted for the sake of Christ, for then God's Spirit in its glory has come to rest on you. See to it that none of you suffers for being a murderer, a thief, a malefactor, or a destroyer of another's rights. If anyone suffers for being a Christian, however, he ought not be ashamed. He should rather glorify God in virtue of that name" 1 Peter 4: 12 -16.
He never tires of reminding us and sharing with us, "I intend to recall these things to you constantly even though you already understand and are firmly rooted in the truth you possess. I consider it my duty as long as I live to prompt you with this reminder" 2 Peter I 12, 13. He strikes a personal chord when he admits, "...among you there will be false teachers who will smuggle in pernicious heresies. They will go so far as to deny the Master who acquired them for his own, thereby bringing on themselves swift disaster" 2 Peter 1: 1.
The Lord knows how to rescue devout men from trial, and how to continue the punishment of the wicked up to the day of judgment" 2 Peter 2: 9. Peter is grateful for his separation from the values of the world. The encounter with the Lord has been fruitful. His own insights provide inspiration to us all, "When men have fled a polluted world by recognizing the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and then are caught up and overcome in pollution once more, their last condition is worst than their first. It would have been better for them not to have recognized the road to holiness than to have turned their backs on the holy law handed on to them, once they had known it. How well the proverb fits them: `The dog returns to its vomit,' and `A sow bathes by wallowing in the mud"' 2 Peter 2: 20 - 22.
St. Peter reminds us the power of the keys, the power of forgiveness is granted the Body of Christ that through its priests, forgiveness of sin might be extended to all who repent. Forgiveness is granted through sinful men, who having understood and more importantly, appreciate their own forgiveness upon repenting, will be eager to extend its grace to other needy souls. Peter needed forgiveness and received it from the Lord. We all need forgiveness and look to our Maker for its giftedness in our own lives. The growing effects of God's mercy and forgiveness endured in his life so that on Pentecost, on the birthday of the Church, he was able to profess, "I have set the Lord ever before me, with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. My heart has been glad and my tongue has rejoiced, my body will live on in hope, for you will not abandon my soul to the nether world, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption. You have shown me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence" Acts of the Apostles 2: 25-28.
"They asked Peter `...what are we to do, brothers?' Peter answered, `you must reform and be baptized, each of us in the name of Jesus Christ, that your sins may be forgiven; then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was to you and your children that the promise is made and to all those still far off whom the Lord our God calls" Acts of the Apostles 2: 37-39.
Let us come like Peter, let us approach like this disciple and fall before the heavenly throne that its mercy be extended to enrich our limited lives, so that we can with him proclaim "Glory rather in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Glory to him now and to the day of eternity! Amen" 2 Peter 3: 17.
The Resurrection Secures Forgiveness
The most dramatic and obvious result of the glorious and triumphant Resurrection of our Lord is victory over death. Since physical death is the result of sin and our disavowal of immortal life, the more obvious results of Christ's victory is forgiveness of sin and life after death. In a two- fold way our Lord introduces new and everlasting life to us on the forthcoming feast. Prior to his return to the Father He announces to the disciples, "Full authority has been given me both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" Mark 28: 19. The sacramental Mystery of Baptism forgives and removes the sin of separation into which we are born. Recognizing as He does the feeble strength we possess in approaching the temptations of the devil surrounding us, the Lord further grants the power of the keys to the disciples so that sin committed and enjoyed after the miracle of Baptism might also be eradicated.
Alluding to coming days in the future, our Lord approaches the disciples one day and promises them, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven" Matthew 16: 19. The key, we know, is an instrument used to open a lock. In this case, the gates of heaven have been closed to man since Adam and Eve were escorted out of paradise by the angel with a fiery sword. The keys presented by the Lord to disciples offer an ability and necessity to teach and interpret God's will for mankind. If we sin, we must apologize to our Creator for offending his mandated expectation for our behavior. The key is an emblem of enduring and continuing heavenly power. The astounding thing is that our God imparts and shares his power with us, through his sacramental priesthood.
So there is no question about how this eternal power is to be utilized for man's benefit, because in another dramatic instance, after the Resurrection itself, when our Lord encounters the disciples in the locked and secure upper room, He greets them, "Peace be with you" John 20: 19. This is the first consequence of Resurrection victory because if the conditions He is about to announce are fulfilled, peace of mind and peace of soul will be the resultant giftedness along with reconciliation and enduring friendship with the God of heaven. "At the sight of the Lord, the disciples rejoiced. `Peace be with you,' he said again" John 20: 20. It is his desire to confirm them in faith response. Thus He makes a stunning announcement, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Then he breathed on them and said, `Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive men's sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound" John20: 21 - 23.
In examining these words we are granted the insight by the Second Council of Constantinople that the Holy Spirit is truly given here and is imparted by a plenitude of grace, through breathing on the disciples which is not at all symbolic, but demonstrative of actual bestowal of forgiving power. Thus on this feast we have a serious manifestation of the Almighty Father sharing his forgiving power with the Church He establishes some fifty days later to guide man to the portal of salvation! This action recalls the time in the Book of Genesis (2: 7) when our heavenly Father breathed on man and gave or infused a soul within him. Now it is the life-force of supernatural life that is being shared with man once again. The disciples are recreated and reconstituted as new men, brothers of Jesus Christ, sons of Almighty God. This is known in the history and theology of the Church as the first imparting, the very first giving of the Holy Spirit who comes in glorious fullness on Pentecost.
Only our God could do for us what He did on the day of Resurrection. In an astounding chain of salutary events, the Holy Spirit is here before He comes among us on Pentecost. Only the love of our God could anticipate such a glorious coming among us. Because his presence is desperately needed, He is here, even before He comes. And even when the Lord ascends and returns to the Father, He remains forever with us in the Mystery of the Eucharist! What language is man to use in describing the unabashed love our heavenly Father has for his choice creation?
So important and so sublime is this reconciliation power given to the disciples and their successors that the Lord cannot wait, does not wait, but eagerly shares the results of his victory over sin and death on the very day it occurs. How glorious then is the dignity of man, created in his image that our God is so desirous and eager to share the benefits of never-ending life with his beloved.
So from this very moment, individual auricular confession is a necessity. It is heaven's method and God's approach to reconciliation. It is the place where the Holy Spirit descends when penitents approach the stone of forgiveness. There is no tradition in the life of the Body of Christ for the Protestant general confession practice. Such has no basis in Scripture or Tradition and is established with the pride of Pharisees who will not subject themselves to the paternal care and concern of the Church. It is the practice of those who would love without the embracing arms of God about them. Except in emergency and inordinately large numbers in case of disaster when individual believers do not have the time nor circumstance to apologize to God, to confess their sins and repent, to seek forgiveness, would this be allowed.
If we examine the words of the Lord we discover there is a condition with the word "If'. In other words, the disciples may or may not offer forgiveness. If the condition of repentance is not satisfied to the praying mind of the father confessor, no absolution or forgiveness can be granted. The condition of sorrow for sin is vital and necessary. If it is not exhibited, no forgiveness is granted. Thus we see the priest-confessor must hear the sins enunciated and must be assured sorrow of soul is present so that heaven's absolution and thus, forgiveness, can be gladly and joyfully granted.
In other words, the intermediary office of the priestly confessor is vital and necessary. He is there in the Mystery of Reconciliation to advise, to affirm, to offer the understanding and assurance of generous forgiveness if the condition of repentance and sorrow are judged to be present. And we must not forget that priests, too, must confess their sins and are not exempt from the sacramental Mystery. How is the priestly confessor to determine if the sins are forgiven or to be held bound, to grant absolution or advise the so-called penitent he must spend more time in considering the seriousness of offenses before God and inspire sorrow, through prayerful petition for his sins and then to return once again signifying that God's conditions are met and a new approach to forgiveness is sought.
How blessed is man that in the greatest miracle of his entire lifetime, the very purpose of his coming among us, encapsulated in the glorious Resurrection, is bound together with forgiveness and reconciliation if man will but take advantage of the opportunity to seek and renew friendship with our heavenly Father.
St. Peter the Apostle teaches us, "Be solicitous to make your call and election permanent" 2 Peter 1: 10. He is emphasizing to us the importance of each individual believer to do his part in working out the salvation of his soul. In another instance St. Paul speaks of making up what is lacking in the Resurrection of Christ by which he means God has done all He can do for our salvation, so we must cooperate with the Resurrection victory and its grace. If we do not make it personal by our faith response, then the Resurrection has no meaning or victory for us. If we do not incorporate its blessing in our lives, we cannot benefit from its triumph. If we do not match the concern of our God for the salvation of our souls by exercising at least somewhat similar love for ourselves which is so obvious in the actions of our God, Christ can rise from the dead a thousand times and it will not affect us, until we dispose ourselves to make it affect us by his grace!
More important as a sign of his divinity than victory over sickness is victory over sin - which introduces sickness into the life of man. Christ's Resurrection affects not symptoms of malfunction but the cause of man's spiritual and self-inflicted malaise on earth. Thus the Church gathers us together today, after we have confessed our sins and repented of our evil inclination and try once again after being lifted from our fall, to assert the power and glory of our God in our lives. We are anointed today that we recover then from the sickness of our jaundiced thinking; that we literally bury willingness to suffer imperfection and eagerness to cooperate in sinfulness and be inspired by St. Paul's words, "...now consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Jesus Christ" Romans 6: 11. It is a long, long stretch of spirituality and reality to think the anointing is offering us forgiveness if we do not individually ask it, seek it and fulfill the requirements of the Lord to achieve it.
The disciples are overcome with awe as the Lord imparts to them a new dignity of affirming man's creation in the image of God. Now they can offer and pass on the forgiveness they receive from the Lord. They can share God's freedom with needy man. The proceeds of Christ's Resurrection is the beautiful news that a handful of chosen followers proceed to spread throughout the world the sorely needed news that man is not abandoned, that he is not orphaned, that he is in fact embraced by the loving heart and devoted soul of priests who are eager to confirm repentance and affirm the pursuit of sanctity and holiness in life.
CHRIST IS RISEN!
INDEED HE IS RISEN!