Putting Faith Into Practice

          On my drive back from Wisconsin on Thursday, I was searching the radio for a clear station.  It stopped on a Christian radio talk show that had a Catholic Priest visiting with the host and taking calls.  The topic of conversation was ‘forgiveness’.  And I listened with interest as the Priest shared thoughts of wisdom with callers who were struggling to forgive people who had hurt, offended, taken advantage of, and in some cases destroyed reputations of ‘innocent’ victims.

          How does a surviving parent forgive the murderer that took the life of a child?  How does a spouse forgive an unfaithful partner?  How does a congregation forgive after a split?  These are deeply painful and difficult situations that will NEVER be EASY.  But Jesus never said that following him would be easy.

          “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:31-32).” 

          “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:13-14).”

          And in Matthew immediately following the text where Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15).”

          The foundation of Christian faith is built on Jesus who loves and forgives and calls us to do the same.  The radio host asked the Priest, how can people overcome their deep pain to forgive those who have wounded them?  The Priest responded, “Forgiveness is not based on a feeling.”  It is an action that we are called to complete.

          It is especially difficult to grasp the concept of unearned and undeserved grace and forgiveness if we do not see our own need for Christ’s forgiveness.  If we are pointing fingers at others and what they have done, if we are unable to see our own sinfulness, unable to see where WE have wronged others, then God’s grace and mercy rings hollow in our hearts and minds.

          The Priest said that we are not called to forgive when we FEEL ready to do so.  We are called to forgive whether we feel like it or not.  It places trust in Christ rather than our own abilities.  Such an action humbles us as we say to God, “I forgive them for what they have done to me.  Help me to see in this action where I too have hurt others and need forgiveness.  Provide me the strength to move forward in your grace rather than being stuck in the mud and hate of the past.” 

          God’s grace through Christ can do the unthinkable.  It can change us.  Love and forgiveness heals past wounds.  Does that mean that we will always be reconciled to those who we have forgiven?  No.  Maybe we won’t.  But notice the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.  Forgiveness releases us from the burden of judgment that is God’s alone.  We are freed from the perceived need to judge.  Reconciliation may or may not occur afterwards, where two opposing sides are able to come back together.

          In today’s Gospel message, Jesus said to be careful of the yeast in the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Their foundation of faith was based on judgment.  Act good enough and you will be acceptable.  Live against the law and you are considered unworthy.  The Pharisees saw no reason for their own need of forgiveness because they believed they were living the way they were supposed to.  In many ways, Christianity today is really much closer to the Jewish faith than the teachings of Jesus.  We judge based on what people have done or not done. 

The Christian faith, means following the teachings of Christ and seeking his will.  Following Christ means loving and forgiving.  Our understanding of faith is visible in our lives.  If we truly believe this Christian message of Jesus, it will make a difference in our lives.  In John chapter 13 Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Faith is not built on a foundation of Sunday morning worship or the tradition of the worship style.  That one hour during the week is an opportunity for all of us to gather in community to give God thanks and praise.  But faith lives 24/7.  It is a lifestyle.  The Christian faith is not simply a ticket to heaven at a future date.  It is a living and breathing relationship, it is a purpose, and it creates hope for those who seek God’s will.  Trusting in Christ, we can put our faith into action by seeding love and mercy, not because anyone deserves it, but because we are called to obedience.