forgiveness always comes first

There is that unanswerable question, an enigma if you will, that comes to mind as we reflect upon the readings for this 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” A similar question can be raised from the Gospel: “Which came first, the woman’s love of Jesus or his forgiveness?

Forgiveness then love

Forgiveness then love

There is a certain ambiguity in the translation of the passage “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.”1 The 1986 English translation differed by a single word: “her many sins have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.” Either translation could be interpreted to sound as if her great love caused or resulted in her sins being forgiven although the older translation could and should be correctly understood to mean that because her sins were forgiven she showed great love.

Take notice of what occurs here. It wasn’t because the woman loved Jesus that he forgave her but the complete opposite. Because Jesus forgave her she loved him in return. God’s love for us is forever and unchangeable no matter how broken we may be.

What is crucially important here is to understand the right order of God’s love, our love of God, and God’s mercy and forgiveness for our sins.

God doesn’t love us unless we love him first nor does he withhold his mercy and forgiveness until he receives our love. God loves us first, last, and always, no matter how broken we may be. His love is unconditional; we can never lose his love. Never.

Even if we choose to deny him, hate him, or ignore him, his love will remain. As difficult as it is to understand, God loves Lucifer, the angel who would be god, evil incarnate. So if Lucifer remains in God’s love, how could you ever lose his love. God’s love knows no bounds. You simply cannot sin enough, hate enough, become evil enough to lose his love.

Of course, our love for God is not the same as God’s love for us. Our love for him is conditional,  it depends on how disposed we are toward God at any given moment, whether we believe he has answered our prayers or ignored them, whether we are having a good day or a bad day, and so forth. Some believe they hate God, others hold little or no faith in his existence. So while God loves us always, our love for him wavers hot and cold; it blows like the wind.

No one is perfect, no one that is but God. We are fallible, God infallible. We are broken, God unbroken and unbreakable, one in perfect being.

Through the inheritance of our first parents we acknowledge our weaknesses and our brokenness; we recognize that through our broken nature we will fail repeatedly, failing over and over again.

It is quite common for us to believe that in order to be loved by God we must rid ourselves of our imperfections and become sinless in his eyes. That is backward thinking. God loves us no matter what. When we sin it is because we have deliberately shut our self off from his love, denied him sanctuary within our soul, and hardened our heart to his love.

To compound our backward thinking we often conclude that we have exceeded the limits of brokenness and can never be made whole again. It is as if we have been branded on the forehead with the letters PBS (Permanently Broken Sinner,) forever marked for our sins.

More and more we find ourselves in what we believe to be an irresolvable and therefore unforgiveable state of brokenness. Divorce, abortion, pregnancy outside of marriage, homosexuality, extramarital affairs, lost virginity, the list goes on and on. We find ourselves with feelings of hopelessness and a sense that what has happened is irrevocable, beyond repair, beyond the redemptive power of God’s grace.

We have lost our innocence and have come to believe that what we have lost, like virginity, can never be restored or renewed.  We come to believe that we are well and truly hung and that there are no second chances, that we have no hope of heaven.

That is old school or old church thinking. There was indeed a time when there was simply no room for error, no first or second chances, when the attitude followed along the line of “you made your bed now lie in it,” forever. That kind of attitude has left permanent scars on far too many: divorcees, ex-priests and religious, those who have had an abortion, those who have committed adultery or infidelity, children born out of wedlock, loss of faith, and others who have made grave, seemingly unforgiveable mistakes.

What is missing and most needed is the recognition that there is but one truly unforgiveable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  Pope Saint John Paul II explained this in Dominum et Vivificantem:

Against the background of what has been said so far, certain other words of Jesus, shocking and disturbing ones, become easier to understand. … They are reported for us by the Synoptics in connection with a particular sin which is called ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.’ … Why is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit unforgivable? How should this blasphemy be understood? Saint Thomas Aquinas replies that it is a question of a sin that is ‘unforgivable by its very nature, insofar as it excludes the elements through which the forgiveness of sin takes place’ (ST 2b:14:3). According to such an exegesis, ‘blasphemy’ does not properly consist in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the Cross. If man rejects the ‘convincing concerning sin’ which comes from the Holy Spirit and which has the power to save, he also rejects the ‘coming’ of the Counsellor … If Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven either in this life or in the next, it is because this ‘non-forgiveness’ is linked, as to its cause, to ‘non-repentance’, in other words to the radical refusal to be converted. … Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, then, is the sin committed by the person who claims to have a ‘right’ to persist in evil — in any sin at all … The Church constantly implores with the greatest fervor that there will be no increase in the world of the sin that the Gospel calls ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.’ Rather, she prays that it will decrease in human souls.”2

All too often the Church finds itself at the sharp end of the spear, taking vicious jabs from those who believe her to be too dogmatic, too rigid, too set in her beliefs to change or show mercy toward those who are broken. If that were the case, there would be no one worthy of membership in the Body of Christ, for we are all broken. We are all in need of his grace, his love, and his forgiveness.

As Father Ron Rolheiser writes:

We need a theology which teaches us that even though God cannot unscramble an egg, God’s grace lets us live happily and with renewed innocence far beyond any egg we might have scrambled. We need a theology that teaches us that God does not just give us one chance, but that every time we close a door, God opens another one for us. We need a theology that challenges us not to make mistakes, that takes sin seriously, but which tells us that when we do sin, when we do make mistakes, we are given the chance to take our place among the broken, among those whose lives are not perfect, the loved sinners, those for whom Christ came.We need a theology which tells us that a second, third, fourth, and fifth chance are just as valid as the first one. We need a theology that tells us that mistakes are not forever, that they are not even for a lifetime, that time and grace wash clean, that nothing is irrevocable. Finally, we need a theology which teaches us that God loves us as sinners and that the task of Christianity is not to teach us how to live, but to teach us how to live again, and again, and again.3

The message from the readings for this Sunday is one of  God’s  unceasing love for his broken and fallible creatures, a love that forgives long before we can ask. No matter what we do we cannot lose God’s love and no matter how many times we fall, he will always be there to catch us and lift us up again. Our love for him is not a condition for his forgiveness, it never has been and never will be. Amen.

 


1  Lk 7:47.
2  Pope Saint John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Dominum et Vivificantem [“The Lord and Giver Life”], 46-47.
3  Ron Rolheiser, OMI, In Exile: God Overcomes Scrambled Eggs, The Sunday Website of Saint Louis University.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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