Sunday Sermon for June 16, 2013, the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary time, Year C
Readings: 2Sam 12:7-10, 13; Gal 2:16, 19-21; Lk 7:36-50
In the readings today we hear about the forgiveness of sins, the means by which sins can be forgiven and that we can be justified before God. We need to begin with the most important point and that is the forgiveness of sins. The Church gives us today two examples of very large sins, one of murder and one of prostitution. It is important for many of us to see the seriousness of these sins because we sometimes think that our own sins cannot be forgiven. I suspect that most of us have never committed sins of this magnitude, but in our society there are many people who have been affected by fornication/adultery and by abortion.
Regardless of the sins you have committed, when we see the mercy of God extended to those who have committed such grave sins we can also begin to understand that God can have mercy on us as well. We can know that we, too, can be forgiven no matter what we have done.
We all know this to be the truth, and we often tell others that they can be forgiven, but for some reason we fail to apply to ourselves the counsel we give to others. This is why the teaching of St. Paul in the second reading today is so critical for us. If we cannot accept God’s mercy and forgiveness we have to ask why. Sometimes it is because we feel unworthy, other times it is because we think our sins are too big for God to forgive, at other times perhaps we feel too much shame and, therefore, refuse to open our hearts for fear that we might be rejected.
To begin with the question of worthiness to be forgiven. We must realize that there is absolutely nothing we can do to make ourselves worthy of God, His grace, His mercy or any of His other gifts. So it is true that we are not worthy, but this is precisely the point St. Paul is making today. We are not justified by works, but by faith in Jesus. If we lived the commandments of God perfectly from this day forward and truly loved God and neighbor whole heartedly, it would still not make us worthy. I repeat: there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING we can do to make ourselves worthy.
This being the case, we have only one option: recourse to Jesus. We need to believe in who He is and what He did for us. Remember that St. Paul tells us that Christ died for us while we were still enemies of God. The Father did not send the Son to redeem us because we were worthy. Instead, by His death, Jesus won redemption and salvation for us and He removed the enmity that was there between God and us to the point that we have become God’s own children.
Considered this way, what have your children done to make themselves worthy of your love and of your forgiveness when they have violated you in some way? There is nothing they can do to make themselves worthy. Instead, you love them and you forgive them without them being worthy of your generosity. We are God’s children. He loves us and forgives us even though we are not worthy. This requires an act of faith on our part. In turn, He asks us to forgive others, even though they are not worthy.
If we think our sins are too big for God to forgive, then we somehow think we are bigger than God. St. Therese tells us that the biggest sin we can commit is like a drop of water compared to the ocean of God’s mercy. There is nothing we can do that God cannot forgive, provided that we are repentant.
The shame is a problem, but we have to look again at God’s mercy. He made us His children, we did not earn it. He forgives, forgets, and receives us back into His family, not holding our offenses against us. This, too, requires an act of faith to believe, but such an act of faith will set us free.
There is one other item that sometimes gets in the way of our acceptance of God’s mercy. In the first reading God tells David that he is forgiven, but also says the sword will never part from his house. While the sins are removed, the effects of the sins are not. This distinction needs to be clear so that we do not think that because of the ongoing effects, memories, temptations, etc., that we are not forgiven. We need to take the focus off of ourselves and put it on to God, make an act of faith and receive the justification that comes only from the passion and death of Jesus.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.