God, because of his great love for us, showed us undeserved mercy in sending us Jesus Christ to pay the price for our sinfulness. What did we do for God’s to not only disregard the penalty we deserve for our self serving sins but to forget it entirely? The answer is we did nothing to deserve the mercy of his forgiveness of every one of our sins. His love for us is so deep, so strong, so overwhelming that he gave us a free gift of grace.
The thing we have trouble coming to grips with his forgiveness. It is ingrained in us that wrong must be punished. In fact, we have a built in system of how wrong must be addressed. It was taught to us from childhood as our parents taught us to follow the rules the considered sacred. When we failed to obey a rule we were punished and the code that bad behavior must be punished was embedded in our minds.
We also learned how good behavior earned us praise and built up our self esteem. That effect of praise or reward for good behavior created a mindset that caused us to view ourselves as outcasts when we were caught breaking the rules. In fact, this negative image was reinforced by the words our parents used to describe their disappointment in us due to bad behavior.
The code of reward and punishment was then reinforced by the schools we attended, the organizations we joined and the laws enacted by society. There are rules that guided us in every aspect of our lives and our church has taught us those same lessons. We know that penance follows forgiveness. So how can we suddenly believe our sins will be treated differently by God? We can hear God tell us, as he does throughout the scriptures, how he forgives and forgets our sins but can we stop reacting to sin as we have been taught.
I will never forget the first time I read how God forgives sin spoken to us through the prophet Jeremiah. God promises us he will always forgive each and every sin and remember our guilt no more (Jer.31:34). If we could understand this is God’s code of reward and punishment; then we can begin to feel within us the meaning of God restoring our glory, restoring our righteousness and the fact we will become new creations made in the likeness of God. God does not condemn us for our failings his only aim is to enfold us in his arms and to restore us.
What God offers us does confuse us because it is not in keeping with the long held code by which we have always lived our life. Yet we have had those moments when mom or dad instead of the normal punishment for breaking a rule would suspend the punishment. This relenting of the normal punishment generally came with a long discussion of what is expected of us. So although the punishment was not administered we did receive an admonishment. That in itself was a punishment because our image of being good in their eyes took a beating.
What God offers us is Mercy that builds us up and restores us as sons and daughters. The key to us changing our view of reward and punishment is to accept the gift of salvation offered us. Accept it by standing before Jesus and like the Centurion at the foot of the cross declare Jesus as the Son of God. That is the first step in a total transformation of our minds so we know “the great hope to which God has called us and the immeasurable scope of his power at work among us” (Eph. 1:18). Once we acknowledge Jesus died for “my” sins, the Holy Spirit then begins its work of changing our way of thinking so we can embrace what is offered to us by God – mercy. Reward or punishment does not exist in his kingdom.
If we embrace the saving act of Jesus for our sins then we will stop trying to earn our way back into the good grace of God. Paul in today’s reading repeats this aspect of the way God views our sin by telling us mercy is “not (earned) by us but is a free gift of God.” Gifts need to be accepted and not put aside because it is not needed by us. How do we accept what God offers us? With gratitude for without it we are trapped into this endless cycle of seeking approval and knowing we often disappoint the one we are trying to approve of us.
As you attend mass this week or the next time you attend mass I invite you to do something for yourself. Make a decision to make it a time of thanking God for forgiving your sins and remembering the guilt of those sins no more.
Use the songs as a time of making the words a prayer to God so your focus is not on anything else but on God.
Listen to the readings but in particular listen the letter of Paul to the Ephesians of this week (even if you are into the next weeks readings) and reflect on the free gift of grace God is offering you.
As you receive the Eucharist, let your Amen be a voicing of saying yes I accept your death took away all my sins and your Father remembers them no more.
Then after you return to your pew let the Father’s arms embrace you as he did the prodigal son, Then listen to his words as he speaks to your heart – you are my delight in whom I am well pleased.