God's Heart of Forgiveneness

09-15-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

The main theme of the scriptures and prayers at Mass this weekend is the forgiveness of God. This forgiveness of God is at the very core of our faith. When we step back and think about it, we survive because of it. Forgiveness cannot be categorized or understood in any logical construct, because it is not logical for our all-perfect God to forgive us, his imperfect creatures. That is why forgiveness is an all-encompassing medicine that restores anyone and everyone whom sin and failure have led astray. It gives back to us our future and it eliminates all fear. It rescues us when we have lost our way in life.

The first reading, which is from the Old Testament, illustrates for us a rather fickle God who is easily swayed by the pleading of a just man named Moses. It appears that God seems to come across as rather petty and quite rash, while in contrast Moses appears very wise and quite judicious. In looking closer at the reading, we discover more than the mind of Moses, we actually discover the heart of God. And, sadly, that heart is breaking, yet it is filled with forgiveness.

To comprehend all this, we need to realize that God had only recently presented the Israelites with the Ten Commandments, and almost right away they are worshiping an idol. It is easy to understand why God is angry. Moses intercedes on behalf of the people with three main points: Moses appeals to God’s pride in “ownership” of the people; he appeals to God’s honor; and finally, he appeals to God’s fidelity. Moses’ issues are not to outdebate God, but that no matter our sin and its grievousness, he knows God will grant forgiveness. God’s basic attitude toward us is will always include forgiveness.

In our second reading, which is from the Letter to Timothy, Saint Paul uses himself—the great sinner—as an example of just how great is God’s forgiveness. We note that the three famous parables in today’s Gospel combine to create a very large picture of God’s forgiving love. Jesus tells his listeners that like a tidy housekeeper, a good shepherd, a prodigal father, God puts out a special and distinct effort to recover the lost and to forgive. By the woman leaving her nine silver pieces, the shepherd leaving his ninety-nine sheep waiting, and the father leaving his elder son upset, Jesus is trying to help us understand that we must abandon a money-making or parsimonious view of the Christian life. If God can be so generous, so forgiving, so loving to those we deem unworthy, we must also act likewise.

Since today’s readings can teach us many things, it is better to focus on just one: stubbornness. The angry God we find in Exodus in our first reading is upset because the people are so obdurate and so thick! They just do not comprehend that God has rescued them, fed them, led them, made a covenant with them; they, instead, are bowing down before some bovine image. The God we meet in the Letter to Timothy is the God who turned the elitist and snobby Pharisee Paul’s head once and for all. The God we meet in the Gospel acts contrary to all conventional wisdom. God is clearly telling us not to be so thick, so judgmental, and so hard on others. Note how God forgives the Israelites even after they blatantly break the first law of the Decalogue. Note how God forgives Paul even though he has ruthlessly persecuted the Christ. And so our God will always forgive the repentant sinner, no matter how much other “religious” people may want to condemn. God forgives the elitist, the judgmental, the stubborn, and the sinner. How blessed for them, and indeed how blessed for us.