ADVENT II (B)
John the Baptist appeared … proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. – Mk. 1: 4
Mark’s Gospel begins with the theme of repentance & the forgiveness of sins – apparently as a preparation for the receiving of the Messiah. Given a choice, we would all choose forgiveness over justice. When we die, we would all prefer mercy to justice. To shake off the shackles of the past, to walk away from destructive habits & alliances, to say “no” to what has mastered a person for so long would seem like the finish line, the successful conclusion to a long process.
But that is just the opposite of what John would have us acknowledge, namely that it is just the beginning. The question of readiness is a partial answer to why the teachings of Jesus fell on many deaf ears. People who have not let go of sin cannot embrace grace. They are not open to Jesus’ banquet. It is not just a matter of exposure to Christ, It is a matter of what we are able to let in, of what we can truly hear & integrate.
If sin is understood as any thought, deed, or disposition the breaks the flow of life between God & the self, as well as between the self, other people & the earth, then a different picture of the desire for forgiveness presents itself. People wake up one day & find that there is no “life” in their lives. The passion, the pleasure & purpose of what they do & who they are is no longer there. The go through the paces & fulfill their duties, but there is something wrong. Although they still fight for money & position, they know the payoff will not be all it promises.
Although they may not be able to list their sins, this is a sinful condition. The flow of life has dried up, & they want out. It is often said that the longing for liberation begins when you notice you are in prison. Desperate women & men risk the future because the past has become intolerable. They are feeling dead, & they sense that they are dying at their own hands. The first step is stripping, purification, letting go.
This helps to explain John’s role in preparing the people for the coming of the Christ. But the Our Father prayer makes it clear that God’s forgiveness is intimately tied up with our forgiveness of others. If our gift is to mean anything at the altar we must first go & be reconciled with one another. So here are what we might call the Ten Commandments of forgiveness:
1) Forgiveness is not easy. There is no cheap grace, no quick fix. If it is quick & easy, it’s not real, especially for deep betrayals & hurts. Ultimately, we cannot forgive on our own. We need to ask God to start the process of forgiveness for us.
2) Forgiveness is not forgetting. It is about a change of heart, not a bad memory or having a senior moment. While it may not include harboring festering hurts, neither is it about forgetting. It may even be helpful to remember the point from which you have moved on, the occasion that began your journey to full forgiveness.
3) Forgiveness does not overlook evil. It doesn’t mean we accept injustice or naively make believe that all is well when it isn’t.
4) Forgiveness is not indifference. When things are harmful & wrong, we do not just go back to “business as usual,” & let the hurt & damage continue. We should do what we can to make sure the evil won’t happen again.
5) Forgiveness is not the same thing as approval. We can be forgiving &, at the same time, express our disagreement or disapproval of harmful behavior.
6) Forgiveness is based on recognizing & admitting that people are always bigger than their faults. They are more than their mistakes or wrongdoings. We don’t define somebody & who they are by something they said to us or the way they hurt us.
7) Forgiveness is willing to allow a person who has offended us to start over again. It does not mean never having anything to do with that person again. We have to let go of that.
8) Forgiveness recognizes the humanity of the person who has wronged us & also our own & our shortcomings & our contributions to what went wrong.
9) Forgiveness surrenders the right to get even. As tempting as revenge may be, it only throws fuel on the flames.
10) Finally, forgiveness means we wish the person or group who hurt us well. In fact, we wish them the best. That’s tough, but it is basically letting God be the final judge. To wish them well means to commend them to God’s mercy & judgment.
So Advent reminds us of our need for forgiveness & also of our need to forgive. It is a process that can take a long time, depending on how deep the hurt is. But this is only to acknowledge that something of value does not come cheaply or quickly. Whatever the cost, it is the only thing that can free us from ourselves. AMEN!