Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And the Lord said, ‘For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses’ (Mt. 6:14-5; Mk. 11:25-26).
And, again, Jesus declares,
‘Judge not, and ye shall not be judged. Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned. Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Give, and it shall be given unto you: good measure, pressed down and shaken together and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete, therewith it shall be measured to you again’ (Lk. 6:37-38).
The Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach counsels us:
Forgive a wrong done you by your neighbor; then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Can a man preserve wrath against his neighbor and still seek healing from the Lord? Can he show no mercy toward a man like himself and still beg God for mercy for himself? If he being flesh keeps his anger continually, who will atone for his sins? Remember the end of your life and cease from enmity; remember destruction and death and stand fast in the commandments. Remember the commandments and do not vent your wrath against your neighbor; remember the covenant of the Most High and overlook faults (Sr. 28:2-7).
The Lord’s holy Apostle Paul writes:
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by Whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma (Ep. 4:30-5:2).
And, again, St. Paul writes:
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, . . . . (Co. 3:12-15).
And, finally, St. Peter, taking his cue from the wisdom of Proverbs says, “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins’” (Pr. 10:12; 1 Pe. 4:8).
We could go on, but I believe you’ve got the point. We can be super Christians in our own minds, but, as St. Paul says elsewhere, if we have not love (which includes the alms of forgiveness, the oil of compassion), we are nothing more than clanging symbols, hollow and empty (1 Cr. 13:1-13). Inasmuch as we try to creatively dance around this issue of interpersonal relationships, the Sacred Scriptures are very clear that we cannot deceive ourselves and expect God to hear our prayers and to do for us what we are unwilling to do for others, that is, to have mercy on us in the Day of Judgment and to forgive us our sins.
Too often we content ourselves to hold onto grudges like bulldogs, clinging tenaciously to bitterness and all its other related garbage, and anticipate that “it is well with our soul.” We’re only kidding ourselves and we’re certainly not fooling God because that’s pride. St. Paul counsels us to be at peace with others insofar as it depends on you (Rm. 12:18; Hb. 12:14). And, therein, lies the issue: Are we willing? I won’t even ask if we’re able because that’s a cop out. We’re able if we’re willing. That doesn’t mean it won’t be a painful experience. Such is the gift of humility. It doesn’t mean it will be easy. Forgiveness rarely is easy. Such is spiritual growth into the fullness of the stature of Christ God (Ep. 4:13).
But, this is the start of the Fast of Great and Holy Lent, and our Lord calls us to fast from sin, fast from pride, fast from divisions, fast from all of those things that plague our souls and ail us. He teaches us elsewhere that if we are bringing our gift to the Altar and there remember that our brother or sister has something against us, we are to leave it and go find our brother or sister and be reconciled to them (Mt. 5:23-26). And, we are to do it quickly before we get cold feet or it’s too late because death has intervened after which we must face the dread Judgment Seat of Christ (Hb. 9:27). Notice, beloved, our Lord doesn’t say that there has to be merit to the differences dividing us from our brother or sister. If divisions exist, it is unbecoming to the Body of Christ. Note also, He doesn’t say that our brother or sister will be open to or accepting of reconciliation. But, insofar as it depends on you, seek to be reconciled. The Lord will judge righteously both parties. It is not a bad practice – in fact it is commendable – that you seek out the brethren before the Divine Liturgy and ask their forgiveness on a regular basis. Today sets the tone. Today gives us permission to do so, even if there are no biggie issues. It is always meet and right to clear the air, to sweep up the fine dust that, if left unswept, accumulates with time and complacency.
The holy season of reconciliation looms before us. The divine expedition of our Lord’s Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension “for us men and for our salvation” has been executed (Nicene Creed). “He Who knew no sin [became] sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cr. 5:18-21). Herein is the justice of God made manifest towards us sinners. We’re quite willing to take mercy offered, but are we equally willing, if not moreso, to offer it to those who do not deserve it by our standards? What makes us deserving, I ask you? It is the incomprehensible, inconceivable, unfathomable, unimaginable love of God that acts apart from our deserving it:
But God, Who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ep. 2:4-7).
Be reconciled to God, beloved. Be reconciled to one another. Be reconciled with those who are outside of your comfort zone. And, one final thought: “God’s mercy and forgiveness to us is often hidden in our mercy and forgiveness to others.”
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!