To Forgive is Divine!
Old Testament Reading- Psalm 103:10-14
New Testament Reading- 1 John 1:5-10
By Henry J. Rafferty CP -June 26, 2022
The penalty for sin is death, period.
“Well, what if I killed someone, but I was justified in my killing?” “What if I stole some money from a rich person, they’re rich, they wouldn’t miss it anyway?” “My sin was that I lied about something I saw someone do. No big deal, right? It’s not like I murdered someone, that is a real sin, right?” We can find all manner of ways to justify or lessen the effects of our sins against God and each other, in fact, human beings have been doing it from the very beginning. We sin and lie to cover the sin, then we repeat, again, and again, and again, over and over until we stand before God as He asks us about our sins and we look Him straight in the eyes and say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, not me, I didn’t do it.” Except God is no human being that will listen to lies and be manipulated. God sees and knows all that we do, say, and feel. Scary, isn’t it? If you don’t think it’s scary, you’re fooling yourself to think that you have nothing to worry about, that you’re too good to be on God’s naughty list or that there are plenty worse than you. But Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” meaning that all of us, not one, have been perfect, except Christ the Lord, and we are all in need of salvation if we are to live out our faith with God for eternity.
This realization that you are not nearly as good as you think is crucial for all Christians because if you think you are safe and without sin, or without sins bad enough, then you may think that you do not need a savior. You would be wrong, dead wrong. This is why the rich and powerful are so often used as an example by Jesus as people who will have a hard time entering the kingdom of God. They are so used to their money and position allowing them to buy themselves out of situations or because they are wealthy, they don’t need help from anyone, so it becomes extremely difficult to acknowledge that they need a savior for any reason.
What we realize, once we understand that we are all guilty under the law, is that we need help. This is what we have seen since the beginning. In the Book of Exodus, we see God giving Moses the Ten Commandments and Moses delivering them to the Israelites. They are now under the law and the first thing they do is rebel by worshipping an idol, the golden calf. Moses helps them by asking for God’s forgiveness, which He does, then they rebel again, then again, and again. Human beings need help, but we needed help in a deeper fashion than just following rules. It is like a person who commits a crime and gets caught. They are given a prison sentence, followed by probation, and finally they have paid their debt to the justice system. They had done so well through the whole process by keeping their nose clean and complying to all the conditions set for them to complete the process. One month goes by and they feel the freedom they once felt, no probation officer to worry about anymore, and the next thing you know, they are back in trouble again. Why? Because they had only complied with their punishment guidelines, when what they really needed was to change on the inside.
Let’s look at the “Parable of the Unmerciful Servant,” found in Matthew 18:23-35,
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
In the story, the unmerciful servant only knew how to ask for mercy for himself, but in his heart, he was not merciful at all, and we see it when he deals so harshly with someone who owed him money. Like I said before, God needs us to be changed on the inside. If the servant in our story was changed on the inside, he would have forgiven the debt of the one who begged for his mercy, and not because it was required of him, but because he wanted too really be merciful. Jesus told the Pharisee to clean the cup on the inside first, then it will be clean on the outside as well. That is what God is looking for in us, a true change, not just lip service, or mercy for show.
So, we know about the law, and we understand that we are guilty of breaking the law sometimes in our deeds and sometimes in our thoughts, which Jesus told us is the same thing. We know that God wants us to change on the inside as well as the outside. But how do we do it? Here we go again, God is asking too much of us, isn’t He? Why does He expect so much of us? Yes, God does expect a lot from His children, He wouldn’t be much of a Father if He didn’t, would He? Imagine Him saying, “Just go about your lives and do what ever you want, whenever you want. Hurt as many people as you want and because I love you it won’t matter anyway.” If we really had a God like that, would we be happy with that or do we expect more from the God of all Creation? Instead, we have a God who expects us to act as He knows we should and because He knows that sin is very powerful and difficult for us to overcome in our current fallen state, He has given us a mighty gift to help us, the Holy Spirit.
So, God has given us Jesus to atone for our sins. He has given us the Holy Spirit to live within us and to guide us in all things, but He also has given us one more very important thing, forgiveness. Forgiveness is at the heart of it all, for if God does not forgive us, we are lost, but He will forgive us as we forgive others. This is crucial to understand, and we say it in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” The same way we forgive is the measurement that God will use to measure His forgiveness of us.
On May 13, 1981, as Pope John Paul II was entering St. Peter’s square in Vatican City, he was struck four times with bullets from a man named Mehmet Ali Ağca. Ali Ağca was a young man in his early twenties that had been in jail for another murder and had escaped to shoot the Pope. There is much speculation as to whether he was part of an extremist group or whether he was hired to shoot the Pope, but according to authorities he was a young man with a warped and demented mind. Immediately after the shooting the Pope declared his forgiveness to the gunman. Ali Ağca was sentenced to life imprisonment for the assassination attempt but was pardoned by the Italian president later in life at the Pope’s request. The Pope asked others to pray for his brother Ali Ağca and to ask for their forgiveness of him as well. Pope John Paul visited with Ali Ağca in prison many times and also met with his family. Later in life Ali Ağca claimed to have received Christ because of the kindness and forgiveness demonstrated to him by the Pope. I hope this is true, but even if it is not, Pope John Paul did what most people would not, he forgave that man and not only that but prayed for him to be forgiven by God. The Pope was mindful of the Holy Spirit within him that reminded him that all of us are in need of forgiveness and that if we can forgive our enemies or those who would harm us, then we have begun to be as Christ is to us.
That kind of power to forgive comes from God not from this world, that kind of forgiveness is divine.
Remember also when Jesus hung on the cross and the people stood all around mocking Him and hurling insults at Him. What would you think of those people? Jesus could have unleashed the power of God upon those people to destroy them, instead He unleased the power of God upon them to save them, by saying, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” That kind of power to forgive comes from God not from this world, that kind of forgiveness is divine. If we allow the Holy Spirit within us to guide us, the cleansing of
our heart takes place, and we are changed and clean on the inside first. That is what our heavenly Father expects of us and if we are willing to accept it, that divine forgiveness will not only transform our own lives, setting us free from feelings of hatred and revenge, but it will also begin to transform the world. Think of all the bad things your friends or family have done to you and you have forgiven them without even a thought. Now imagine if we could do that to everyone. The Pope changed Ali Ağca’s life, maybe even eternally by his forgiveness. We have the same Spirit within us to do the same. Jesus Christ’s love and divine forgiveness changed the world over two thousand years ago and it is still changing the world today one soul at a time. Thanks be to our heavenly Father who is full of forgiveness for His children. Amen.