God does amazing things. God created the universe. From the moment of creation 13.7 billion years ago stars and galaxies and space and time itself have been formed and are forming. The very teeny-weeny particle of matter that we call an atom can produce enough power to fuel the sun — or destroy the earth if we are not careful. Everywhere the space telescopes point they find a new, unexplored region of space that boggles the mind and causes scientists to re-think their theories. The latest guess is that there are two trillion galaxies each with hundreds of millions of stars. And this universe is not just big and powerful, it is also beautiful. A star-spangled sky on a cold winter night, the delicate curve of a new-born child’s ear, a field of tulips like a painter’s palette gone wild – it all takes your breath away. In addition, God created the earth in such a way that it sustains an entire cornucopia of life including our own. The rhythm of the seasons, the balance of sunlight and water, the earth that brings forth plants and the wind that regulates the weather. All this is part of the plan and pattern of God as well.
The last example tells us something else – that we as human beings have the ability to thwart God’s plans by our actions. We have let our greed and ease threaten the circle of life baked into creation. Pope Francis insists this is a profoundly religious question: are we going to be good stewards of the earth God had given us or are we going to continue down the path of using up everything as if there is no tomorrow. Will we rise to the monumental challenge? The Gospel for today reminds us that there is another aspect of human existence where we can steer the action God in a certain direction. We can inhibit God’s ability to forgive. Think of the prayer Jesus taught us. It is all about what God can do: Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, give us our daily bread, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil. In only one area is a limit placed on God’s power. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” As we forgive — if we are not willing to forgive, God is not willing to forgive us. We are in the driver’s seat. The Bible says God is always the actor, the doer, the one in charge. When it comes to forgiveness God has ceded control over to us.
St. Peter knew that forgiveness was a big deal, woven into the heart of the life that Jesus was urging on him and all his followers. But forgiveness is hard. It’s hard because when we are hurt we want to lash out in return. It is hard because forgiving makes us vulnerable to be hurt again. It’s hard because when we forgive it feels like we are giving a free pass to someone who has done us harm. Because forgiveness is hard St. Peter tried to put limits on it. “How often must I forgive?” In the parable of the unforgiving servant Jesus teaches that there is no limit if we want God’s forgiveness. We have doubtless absorbed the message that Jesus was about love. He taught us that love of God and loving your neighbor are the great commandments. However, the Bible suggests that an infallible sign of love is forgiveness. We can measure our love by how forgiving we are. Maybe we could revise some of our songs to reflect this. They will know we are Christians by our forgiveness, by our forgiveness. Forgiveness is a many-splendored thing. All you need is forgiveness. Forgiveness makes the world go round. I will always forgive you. It doesn’t have the same zip but the sentiment lies at the heart of living the gospel as Jesus intends.
What is it about forgiveness that makes it so important, so necessary in the life of a Christian? The short answer: it’s because there are no walls in heaven. Think of it this way: you are getting ready to go to Thanksgiving dinner, but you hear your cousin J.J. is coming. Now, you’re mad a J.J. He had asked you for a buck so he could buy a lottery ticket. You gave it, he bought the ticket, the ticket hit, and he got a big payout … and he gave you back the buck he borrowed, nothing more. You’re ticked off. Should you stay home and pout about the unfairness of it all? Should you go to the dinner and yell at J.J.? If you do go to the dinner, is it going to be awkward? Will you give him the silent treatment over the turkey? Will you pass verbal bombs along with the gravy? Or will you forgive him and enjoy the meal. He might be a jerk but why let him spoil your meal! By forgiving him you have taken back the power he has over you and pass the sweet potato casserole. Multiply that individual example and you get a picture of heaven. Everyone is invited to the heavenly banqueting table, but you have to be open to everyone being there. There is no special seating, no walls set up that exclude those we don’t like or approve of. All are welcome. Do you remember the old Bible School song: “He calls us in to his banqueting table, his banner over me is love?” According to the gospel for today we should sing: “He calls us in to his banqueting table, his banner over me is forgiveness.” God has forgiven us. No matter what we have done or what was done to us there is a place for us at the table. But that requires of us that we are willing to sit next to even the person who has cut us to the quick. After all, we’re at the same table, the table of the forgiven – sinners who, both in life and in death, belong to the Lord. Bon Appetit!