12 November 2007

On not being sinned against

St. Josaphat: Wis 1.1-7 and Luke 17.1-6
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

Aside from the crucifixion itself, there is perhaps no other moment in the gospels that shows our Lord’s ridiculous excess of love for us that this teaching on forgiveness. Only his love for us as he hangs on the cross surpasses the sheer magnitude of excessive love that we must muster in order to follow his teaching on daily forgiveness. If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him. Repeat as often as necessary. We know this, of course! Doing it is something else. But if you think mustering the love required to forgive the same offense seven times a day is difficult, let me suggest an even more difficult way: strive to become that sort of person who cannot be sinned against, that sort of person against whom there is no offense. If charity requires that we forgive an offense, it seems only reasonable that the demands of excessive love would also push us toward becoming “inoffensible.” But then again maybe reason has nothing to do with it and what we’re really getting at here is a question about the limits of that good habit of trusting in God’s promises: the limits of faith.

The Apostles say to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” I’m sure Jesus smiles a little at this and probably thinks to himself, “Oh really? Increase your faith? Are you really asking me to expand your capacity for trusting in our Father’s promises? Really, now? Think about this for a moment: the larger your capacity for faith—the more faith I give you—the more faith you will be required to cooperate with. More faith, more work. More faith, more trust! More letting go, more just letting be.” Instead of all that, Jesus tells his apostles this: “If your faith is just the size of a mustard seed, you can uproot the mulberry tree with a word and replant it in the sea. Knowing that, do you really want more faith? Remember what I said about faith and moving mountains? You guys are having trouble with simple stuff like not putting stumbling blocks in front of one another and forgiving one another’s offenses. You want to uproot mulberry trees and replant them in the sea? And move mountains too? Tell ya what! You find a better way to put the faith I’ve given you to good use and then we’ll talk about more faith. Deal?”

Deal! Without becoming too much the cultural theorist/critic here, let me suggest a way of taking the faith we have and sharpening it like a fine-edged sword for forgiveness. Our culture, our American milieu, and we Americans thrive with a kind of Extended Wounded Ego—a sore psyche that pokes out there like a delicate nose, sniffing out offense…like French pigs rooting for truffles! How easily we are offended. How simple it is for us to be sinned against. Our eccentricities, weirdnesses, preferences, odd-ball opinions and fantasies—everything I think is essential to my ME-ness becomes an overripe fruit, too sweet, too tender, so soft and ready to be bruised by the slightest chiding touch, the most subtle word of the kind reprove that I spiral into sputtering indignation and collapse into a weeping heap. Am I exaggerating? Yea, just a little to make a point. And here’s my point: if faith requires you to tell me that I have sinned and then requires me to repent and then requires you to forgive me no matter how many times I sin…how much sharper will your faith become if you willed NOT to be offended, willed not to be sinned against? In other words, your daily work with the trust God has already given you becomes the work of building that sort of spiritual life where the sore, offensible, easily bruised ME-ness of You is emptied out, poured out like a libation (Paul says) and all that emptied space in your heart is made ready for a Larger Christ, a Bigger Jesus! How difficult is that? Very difficult. But also very necessary. Love requires it of us. . .and makes it possible.

Struggle with this: the grasp of your love is limited only by the reach of your trust in God’s promise of mercy to you. How far will His promise reach to grasp you? All the way to the cross…and back.

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