Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Homily for Matthew 18:21-35 (On Reconciliation)

We treat forgiveness much too simplistically and this passage from Matthew doesn't provide helpful insight because at the end Jesus tells us that the heavenly Father will treat us like the master who will hand us over to the torturers unless each of us forgives our brother or sister from our heart. Somehow, it doesn't seem like the Father is forgiving seventy-seven times. O.K. We know not to take the words of this parable literally because Jesus is trying to uphold the crucial virtue forgiveness in the life of a disciple. He knows that if we forgive others, we live a reconciled life with them and with God.

Our Christian traditions give us un-clarified information about how and when we are to forgive. Notice what we are instructed to do in the Catholic confessional or, in contemporary terms, the  reconciliation room. We are to confess our sins and our sins of omission. The focus is upon how we have failed to do the right thing. Peter, however, asks a very different question and it is enlightening for the shift it brings. He asks, "If my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?" We are to look at the unjust action that was done to us rather than our wrongness or badness. We first have to deal with the wrong done to us first. Before we can ever get to forgiveness, it is best if we look at healing. What about reconciliation? This is an altogether different concept and that comes further down the road.

Christ has to reconcile us to ourselves before we can forgive another. When someone has wronged us, the last thing we want to do is say, “I forgive you.” The first thing we want to say is, “Stop it. Don’t do that. I’m angry with you. You have no right to treat me like that. I don’t deserve to have you transgress my boundaries.” How many of us actually say this? If we did this more often and immediately, we would stop many people from treating us as we don’t deserve. We would help the person to see the healthy proper ways to respect boundaries.

Instead, we want to be kind. We are told to be a good boy or good girl and not to get mad. We want to keep the peace and avoid conflict. Damn it! Conflict is good if it is done respectfully. It is because of conflict that we grow and we begin to hold another’s desires with greater respect. We have to work to achieve a mutually beneficial result. It is only when people in conflict are able to express their desires and needs in a way that we can be heard that we get enough information to make an informed decision or a loving choice.

We arrive at a problem though. We don’t respect our emotions and desires. When not dealt with in good health, we stew with emotions afterwards. It tears us up and it sets us off into an emotional whirlwind. Why? Our emotions need an appropriate outlet. If we don’t deal with our emotions forthrightly and immediately, we deal with them afterwards – often alone, silently, sometimes in a tormenting way – and they come out of us sideways. They come out in ways that we do not intend, and these ways are not healthy for us or for the other person. How many times has a person been labeled by his or her emotions? “He’s an angry man; She’s a witch; He’s a sarcastic, cynical man; Don’t trust her. She is a gossip.” We are identified with our feelings. Wouldn’t you rather hear about yourself? “He’s a kind man. I’d like to know him” or “She is always so happy. I wish I knew her secret?” or "You have a beautiful smile."

Jesus Christ wants you to let him into your feelings and desires. He wants to be able to say to you, “I want to help you. Will you tell me what is going on with you? Please? I don’t want you to do this alone? Please?” How do we respond? We say, “He knows what I’m going through. I’ve told him hundreds of times before.” Well. Have you really allowed a conversation with him to develop? We recycle things in our mind and we feel the veracity of our emotions, but sitting down and telling him about the swirling turbulence in our lives so that he can hear it and respond to it is a different matter. We think things like, "I feel alone. No one can know what I am going through; I don’t believe he really has something personal to say to me; I've been over this with him before; Jesus is God and all, a really nice man, but he really doesn’t care about what is happening to me. If he did, he would have done something long ago; Yes, Jesus is God, but he doesn't have time to bother with my small insignificant problems." We simply don’t believe that what he thinks really matters. If we did, we might give him a chance to speak, or better yet, a chance to show us compassion and care and concern.

We experience a moment of healing when we physically feel his hand placed on our heart, or he takes our hand into his, or he births something new is us, or we lean back and fall asleep to realize we were in his arms, or he simply smiles and looks at us tenderly, or he strokes our cheek with the brush of his hand. At this we realize he was always there, and we know that he heard us, and that seems to be enough. He might not have to speak; his actions speak what words can't communicate. This is the point we know he is healing us and reconciling us to ourselves. Being loved first means that we can love another. Being healed first means we can reach out to our brother and sister who sinned against us and forgive them for their actions. Only the deeper love, the deeper affection of Christ, can redeem us.

Peter asks, “How often must I forgive?” Seventy-seven times is the answer. It means that we have to learn to love ourselves seventy-seven times a day. If forgiveness is a daily choice, and the first step of forgiveness is loving ourselves, then we have to first love ourselves seventy-seven times a day. Respect your boundaries. Fight for them. Own your feelings and desires. Speak about them as often as you can. Let your heart have ascendancy over your head. Tell them to Christ several times a day and discover where and when he is present to you.

Let others do their own work and speak of their desires. You are only responsible for your own feelings. You will find Christ affirming you and giving you strength – through courage and energy. You will begin to live again in the way God intended from the very beginning. Your desires are good. They are very good. As your honor and respect them, Christ will honor and respect you. Your brother and sister will honor and respect you as well. When you demand they respect your boundaries, fewer and fewer people – maybe only unhealthy ones – will transgress them. You will find liberation in claiming who you are and you will act out of love that begets deeper love.

Forgiveness is a lengthy patient process in which God's glory will be revealed as you live with integrity and validation. This is to what Christ calls you. Isn’t it what we want? Step forth on the marvelous journey of healing, love, and forgiveness. In fact, let us run to the heart God who loves us more than we can ever imagine - to a place where nothingness, resignation, and despair are over and done with. Let us enter the brand new world made brighter by Christ's liberation of your unredeemed messiness. Let us share in Christ’s victory over chaos.