A Cycle – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 20
IIf you think about it, living the Christian life guided by the standard Jesus lays out for us is very difficult for us to desire. We are motivated by other desires. Desires to satisfy self and to be accepted by others. In fact, the great teachers of the human psyche Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow all agreed that we are driven to satisfy a hierarchy of basic physical, psychological and self-fulfillment needs. We have a need for shelter and food, for safety and security, to belong and to be loved, to be recognized, for self-determination and to realize our potential. The problem is once we discover a means to satisfy one need another need rears its head and motivates us to satisfy it.
There is a never-ending cycle of needs which drives us to do the opposite of what Jesus describes as normal for a follower of his. In fact, our desires move us to do exactly the opposite of how a disciple should live. These driving needs are unseen and yet very powerful in motivating us to seek the opposite of what Jesus tells us to seek. Jesus told us to seek first the kingdom of heaven and then all we desire will be added. Instead we seek all those other things and attempt to keep the kingdom of heaven within reach. St. Augustine understood this when he said, “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee O Lord.” If we could realize our greatest need is to connect with our God, we would be able to minimize the impact of all those other needs in our lives. Unfortunately, much of our Christian life is spent trying to please God instead of seeking his kingdom and his embrace.
Today Jesus is telling us about something we can do to change our focus to living for God as disciples instead of serving God as faithful believers. We are being given a clear understanding of how we are expected to live as disciples as God intended. According to Jesus we must not only take care of our relationship with God, but we are responsible for others and are to help them find the path that leads to life. I believe we understand this must be done as husbands and wives, as parents and yes as siblings. However, to approach a friend, a casual acquaintance, a coworker, someone on your team is something we find uncomfortable.
Are we really our brother’s keeper? Isn’t that the role of someone in authority like a priest or deacon? No Jesus is speaking to us when he said, “if your brother has sinned against you, go to them and be reconciled.” They have done something against us, its personal and yet that wrong has a broader impact. For every sin harms the entire body of believers. All sin will bring harm to the entire church. All sin separates us from God (1 John 5:17) and thus we should not minimize our “venial” sins for they separated us from God and thus it damages our ability to give witness to our faith.
This is critical for us to grasp because we fail to believe we are as evil as the great sinners and we certainly are not our brothers’ keepers. Yet we are called to live a life following God’s will not ours. What is critical for us to understand is how we can easily justify speaking to those who sinned against us because we feel justified in holding them responsible for the hurt, they have caused us. We believe they must acknowledge how deeply they hurt us, and they must be punished before we forgive.
Why would Jesus tell us to do something that goes against our instinctive nature? I believe it is because we are called to be new creations and for our lives to reflect the image of God in which we were created. By following God’s plan for our lives, we become more effective witnesses and are able to influence others to seek what we have found. But beyond that is the ultimate satisfaction of discovering the one thing that will truly satisfy our hunger. Forgiveness washes away all that moves us away from God.
Forgiveness given will then replace the pain caused by others and free us to feel God’s love in a deeper way. A peace will come over us because we have discovered how God’s forgiveness changes us and moves us to be more like Jesus. We will become intimate with God and the Holy Spirit will enlighten our minds, so we are able to love our neighbor rather than harbor grudges against them. What is more important than us feeling good about ourselves by satisfying one of those hungers is growing to depend on God’s love to satisfy our hunger.
We will never understand the life of discipleship without learning the lessons of forgiveness. We must forgive because our relationship with God is dependent on us forgiving. This passage today tells us that we are responsible to seek reconciliation with those who have sinned against us. It is not up to them it is up to us for we are the ones who claim to believe. God promised to change our hearts so we will always do his will and Jesus is giving us a clue to the first step in becoming a disciple. Allow God’s forgiveness to touch our deepest hurts and then be just as forgiving to those who have hurt us.
The story of the prodigal son gives us a glimpse of the rewards given to those who seek forgiveness. Given to those who seek to be part of the Father’s house by allowing God to enfold us in a forgiving embrace. The prodigal’s older brother also gives us a glimpse of how unforgiveness places a barrier between us and the things God desires us to experience.
What we do not realize is that unforgiveness binds us and not the person we do not want to forgive or do not know how to forgive. To live the Christian life, we must forgive and seek forgiveness, it is not an optional extra in our faith.