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The Work of Forgiveness

June 4, 2017 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

June 4, 2017
John 20:19-23
Fr. George Smiga

Today’s gospel in which Jesus appears to his disciples on the evening of the Resurrection is one of the most famous passages in the New Testament. Jesus greets his disciples with peace, shows them his hands and his side, and then sends them out to continue his work. But what is often overlooked in this passage is the work that Jesus sends the disciples to do. He does not send them out to preach or heal or to teach. He sends them out to forgive. And there is a very specific way of forgiveness that Jesus has in mind.

A priest in a country parish decided to buy a farm on which he planned to live in his retirement. The farm was a total mess. It was really not much more than a few acres of weeds, gopher holes, and run-down buildings. So each week on his day off the priest would go and plow the weeds and rubble, mix cement, saw wood, repair broken windows, and fix the plumbing as best as he could. After about a year of this, one of his parishioners who was familiar with the old farm stopped to visit. He was impressed. “Well, Father,” he said. “I can see that you and God have been doing a lot of work in this place.” “Thank you,” said the priest, “I appreciate your thoughts. But let me tell you something. You should have seen this place when God had it all to himself.”

God is always working in our lives, but when it comes to fixing up a farm, you need human effort as well. This is close to Jesus’ understanding of forgiveness in today’s gospel. He first of all gives the Holy Spirit to his disciples, because he knows that true forgiveness is only possible through God’s grace. But then he places the work of forgiveness into our hands: “Whose sins you forgive will be forgiven.” Jesus understands that forgiveness involves human action. Forgiveness is a collaborative effort, an action in which the Spirit and we work together. We need the Spirit because the Spirit has the power to soften our hearts, change our minds, and empower us with love. But along with the Spirit we must take up the hard work of forgiving.

Who is it in your life that you need to forgive? Do you need to forgive a family member who has disappointed you? A friend who has betrayed you? A co-worker who has insulted you? A spouse who has rejected you? The risen Christ challenges us to take up the hard work of admitting that we have been hurt but refusing to allow that hurt to determine our future. Jesus calls us to recognize that we have pain but not play that pain over and over again in our minds so that healing is impossible. The hard work of forgiveness is knowing that the hurt which attacked us is real but insisting that the pain will not rule our lives.

Forgiveness is letting go of the past, letting go of those things we cannot change. That is hard work. But when we become exhausted with the hard work of forgiving, it is then that we can trust upon God’s Spirit to revive us and lead us forward. Forgiveness is a work that the Spirit and we do together.

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