Friday Focus: Forgiveness
St. Mark’s account of the passion and death of Jesus is not as long and as detailed as that of St. Matthew. But it is sufficiently long and detailed to convey the complete sacrificial surrender of Jesus in the face of betrayal, torture and execution. As such, this week’s gospel speaks for itself and requires little or no explanation or expansion. Let us focus instead on a single, powerful lesson: Forgiveness – the very first fruit of redemption.
Forgiveness is a cornerstone of our new covenant with God. It repairs the rupture of sin that invaded Eden. It tempers the Old Testament wrath that rained fire and brimstone. It moderates the ritual rectitude of Leviticus. But the forgiveness of Calvary is no mere theological abstraction. It is a reality written in the blood of Christ. Throughout his passion he spells out plainly that to love is to forgive…and to forgive …and to forgive. That is how love works.
In Luke Jesus asks forgiveness for his tormentors: for they know not what they do. Then he forgives the penitent thief for a whole life-time of crime, saying: today you will be with me in Paradise. Conversely in Mark, the message is as much in what Jesus does not say, as it is in what he does say. Pilate is amazed at his silence in the face of obviously trumped-up charges. Mark records Christ’s silent submission continuing up to and on the cross – no rebuttals, no recriminations, no threats of revenge.
In Mark only at the last minute does Jesus break his silence: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? At first glance it is a cry of despair. On further examination, it is a direct quote from David in Psalm 22, which precisely predicted the method of Christ’s execution – more than five hundred years before the Romans introduced crucifixion into Israel. To the end, in obedience to the Father, Jesus shows us he is fulfilling the laws and the prophets. Then finally from the weight of sin, as much as from the agony of crucifixion, he gives up his spirit.
Calvary marks a change in our relationship with God. He is no longer the distant, omnipotent umpire calling balls and strikes. He is the accessible, ever loving, ever forgiving Creator/Redeemer/Sanctifier, the source of all unconditional love. But that does not mean that God has become the enabler in chief. There is a world of difference between condoning and forgiving. God always forgives; he never condones. St. Augustine cautions us that: “No one is redeemed except through unmerited mercy, and no one is condemned except through merited judgment.” We can always rely on God’s mercy. We should never presume on it as a license to sin.
In the Lord’s Prayer, only one petition is conditional: that our trespasses will be forgiven as we forgive those who trespass against us. Surely, we all have need of forgiveness, so we all have a need to forgive. It is a simple and benign concept, until it is seriously challenged. And then it becomes a harsh reality. Overlooking a minor faux-pas is easy. But what about relationships that become contests …when words become weapons… when attack breeds counterattack …when lives are wasted and families destroyed over arguments that have long since lost their meaning? All that calls for some really serious forgiving.
The Yellow Pages are replete with listings of family conflict counselors. The libraries are stocked with volumes on reconciliation. Doubtless, they have merit. But the true path to healing relationships is the way of the cross…to forgive…and forgive…to repent and reconcile…to pray and to love. Then to forgive again… knowing that beyond the Calvary of our conflicts lies the joy of resurrection. Peace is always within our reach, through the door of forgiveness. Jesus has shown us the way.