11th Sunday of the Year 2 Samuel 12:7–10, 13; Galatians 2:16, 19–21; Luke 7:36–50
Our Father . . . “Our Father . . . forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’’
Afew years ago a priest was giving a talk to some young people. After the talk, a young man named Matt came up to the priest to share a story with him.
When Matt finished his story, the priest asked him if he would write it out so that he could share it with other people. Matt gladly obliged.
Here is Matt’s story, in his own words.
My father left home [when I was 11]. . . . My whole family was broken [up]. The tears flowed for weeks, except mine. . . . I began to hate my father, especially for hurting my dear mother. . . .
“I started into crime and drugs. At age 12 I was picked up for three car thefts. . . .
“Now my mother is a Christian. She hounded me to go on this [retreat]. . . . I knew nothing about it and only registered to get her off my back. . . .
“During one of the large group talks, I began daydreaming about God. Then I visualized myself on my knees before Jesus as he hung on the cross. An enormous weight of guilt was upon me. . . . I . . . wept for forgiveness. As I wept, God forgave me . . . he loved me. He loved me in all my filth. . . .
“I opened my eyes and wiped my tears. . . . At last I knew that God was for real. . . .
“I came off that retreat . . . high for the first time [in my life] without smoking, dropping, or drinking. . . .
I actually had to take the next day off work to think and to pray.
“While I was reading the Bible, I began to think about my father. I didn’t want anything to keep me from getting closer to Jesus, and so I called my dad.
“That night I went to his apartment, having prayed for guidance by the Holy Spirit.
“When I arrived, we sat down and talked about nothing. Finally he asked, ‘So what did you come here for?’ I was relieved he asked me, but I didn’t know how to lead into it.
“So I explained how on the weekend I learned how I cannot judge any person for anything, no matter what. Then I asked for his forgiveness for hating him and having bitterness, and judging him. . . .
“He left the room and came back with a folder. . . . Then he pulled out a slip of paper which we both read. [It was a note I had written him years before.] The note went like this:
“ ‘Bill: “ ‘Who do you think you are, and what are you doing? I hate you and I don’t ever want anything from you ever again in my life. Your ex-son, Matt’
“I was aware of all the pain he must have gone through, having carried that note all these years. . . . I threw my arms around him and tears of forgiveness and love flowed beautifully. . . .
“It was like walking through prison gates. . . . I was no longer imprisoned by that hatred. We talked a little longer, and then I kissed him on the lips, said good-bye, and was on my way. . . .
“I took a cab most of the way home that night, but I wanted to walk the last couple of blocks. Joy overflowed in me as my walk turned to a jog and a fast run. With arms outstretched, I screamed ‘I love you’ to God. He blessed me greatly that night.’’
This is one of the most touching stories I’ve ever heard. It’s especially appropriate for today’s readings.
It illustrates the kind of forgiveness God showed David in the first reading. And it illustrates the kind of forgiveness Jesus showed the woman in the gospel reading a total and unconditional forgiveness.
It also illustrates the kind of forgiveness Jesus taught us to have for one another.
The more we read the Gospels, the more we see how totally forgiving Jesus was, and how totally forgiving he taught us to be. Jesus taught us something else too. He taught us that our forgiveness of others will be the criterion by which God will forgive us. Jesus said:
“If you forgive others . . . your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.” Matthew 6:14–15
And that brings us to a second point.
Matt’s story also illustrates the spirit of Father’s Day. It illustrates something we often overlook. It illustrates that fathers need forgiveness too.
So often we think of fathers as being perfect. But they are just like us. They have faults too sometimes big faults.
Yet, beneath these faults is a loving person, a person who will keep for years a painful letter from a pain-filled son.
If Matt’s father had not kept that letter all those years, Matt would never have known how much his father really did love him.
And by the same token, had Matt not forgiven his father, his father would never have had the chance to prove to Matt how much he loved him.
And so Matt’s story is a beautiful illustration of both the spirit of Father’s Day and the spirit of forgiveness that permeates today’s readings.
It shows us the miraculous power of forgiveness. It is a power by which what was broken is made whole again and what was soiled is made clean again.
This is the good news of today’s readings. This is the good news Jesus shares with us. This is the good news we celebrate together on this Father’s Day. Let’s close with these inspiring words of a great American father and general, Douglas MacArthur. He says:
“By profession I am a soldier and I take pride in that fact but I am prouder infinitely prouder to be a father.
“It is my hope that my son, when I am gone, will remember me not from battle, but in the home repeating with him our simple daily prayer:
“Our Father in heaven: May your holy name be honored. . . . Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.”
Series II 11th Sunday of the Year 2 Samuel 12:7–10, 13; Galatians 2:16, 19–21; Luke 7:36–50
Prayer stop It is so easy to jump to conclusions and judge by appearances, rather than by what is in the heart.
George and Lois Woods live on a hill situated above a highway, just outside Palmer, Texas. Next to their home they built a “Prayer Stop’’ for travelers. It’s simply a small A-frame chapel. A walk curves up to it from the highway.
In the chapel is a log book. As you page through it, you see the names and comments of visitors from as far away as Africa.
One visitor wrote in the log book:
“I came to the Prayer Stop a year ago with no car and no job. Now things are much better. I am leaving you some money.’’
Another visitor wrote that he had been drinking and was on his way to kill someone with whom he had gotten into an argument. He saw the chapel on the hill, stopped, spent time sitting in it, abandoned his plan, and returned home.
The most frequent visitors to the Prayer Stop, says Lois Woods, are wives and mothers of convicts on their way to the state prison not far away.
But of all the people who have visited the chapel, George and Lois Woods will never forget one group in particular. One evening they heard a deafening roar of engines. Lois went to the window to see what was happening. She was shocked at what she saw.
A gang of motorcyclists was driving single file up the walk that led from the highway to the chapel. It was a frightening sight.
Some were wearing leather jackets and chains. Most had scraggly beards and long hair. Some had their hair knotted into ponytails with rubber bands.
George joined Lois at the window and said, “I’m not going out there. It’s in God’s hands.’’
As the couple looked on in fear, the gang members got off their cycles. Several of them disappeared into the chapel; others just milled around outside, as though standing guard.
After about ten minutes, those who had gone inside came out again. Then the cyclists did something totally unexpected.
They gathered around the cross in front of the chapel, joined hands together, bowed their heads, and remained in silence for a long time. Finally, the cyclists set out again, down the walk, in single file, to the highway.
George and Lois looked on in amazement. They also looked on somewhat repentant. They had found themselves jumping to conclusions about the motorcyclists, judging them by their outward appearance.
That episode taught George and Lois what they already knew but needed to be reminded of again: You can’t jump to conclusions about people.
It reminded them of God’s words in the First Book of Samuel: “I do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
The story of Lois and George and the motorcycle gang fits in beautifully with the story of Simon and the woman in today’s gospel.
Just as George and Lois jumped to conclusions about the motorcycle gang, so Simon jumped to conclusions about the woman.
George and Lois prejudged the cyclists and labeled them evil people. Simon prejudged the woman and labeled her an evil person.
Worse yet, Simon even prejudged Jesus himself and labeled him a fraud for treating the woman so kindly, saying:
“If this man really were a prophet, he would know who this woman is . . . [and] what kind of sinful life she lives!”
The story of George and Lois and the story of Simon invite us to look into our own hearts and to ask ourselves to what extent we tend to prejudge people.
Let me illustrate with an example.
A high school teacher gave this assignment to her students:
“Go home tonight and pay an explicit compliment to your father or your mother for something he or she has done for you.’’
The next day the students reported back on the experiment. One boy said:
“The whole thing was a total disaster. I complimented my mother on our supper. She turned to me and said, ‘And just what are you setting me up for?’
“ ‘Nothing,’ I replied. ‘I really thought it was good.’
“ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘if you thought it was so good, show your appreciation by doing the dishes tonight.’
“ ‘Oh,Mom,’ I said. ‘Why do you make a federal case out of everything I say? Forget everything I said.’ ’’
When the humor of that story subsides, its deeper truth begins to emerge.
All of us fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, yes, even grandfathers and grandmothers tend to do what Lois and George did.
We tend to do what Simon did. We tend to do what the mother of the boy did. We tend to jump to conclusions. We tend to prejudge others even our own family members.
And so today’s gospel is an invitation to imitate Jesus. It’s an invitation to follow the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said, “Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you, for God will judge you in the same way you judge others.” Matthew 7:1–2
Let’s close with a poem. It talks about how wrongly we can judge others. “I dreamed death came the other night, and Heaven’s gate swung wide. With kindly grace an angel ushered me inside; and there to my astonishment stood folks I’d known on earth; and some I’d judged and labeled unfit of little worth. Indignant words rose to my lips, but never were set free; for every face showed stunned surprise. Not one expected me.’’ Anonymous
Series III 11th Sunday of the Year 2 Samuel 12:7–10, 13; Galatians 2:16, 19–21; Luke 7:36–50
Forgiveness We need to forgive others as God has forgiven us.
Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” The others sitting at the table began to say to themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” Luke 7:48–49
Every once in a while you run across a story that makes you say to yourself, “Now that’s the kind of story Jesus used to tell.” It has a warmth and down-to-earth simplicity that even a child can understand and take to heart.
David Redding tells such a story in his book Jesus Makes Me Laugh.
David lived on a remote farm. His constant companion was his dog, Teddy.
Teddy waited for David to come home from school. He slept beside him. When David whistled, Teddy came running, even if he were eating. Then came World War II.
David had to leave for the navy. He didn’t know how to leave Teddy. He said,“How do you explain to someone who loves you that you are leaving them?”
Finally, the moment of parting came. Teddy knew David was leaving, but he didn’t know how long or why.
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. Finally, the war ended and David was free at last to go home.
The last bus stop for David was 14 miles from his home. It was around midnight and pitch dark when he started walking.
Nearly four hours later, he was a half mile from home. Suddenly Teddy gave his familiar warning bark that Someone was approaching the farm.
Then David whistled. There was a yelp of recognition. A few minutes later Teddy leaped into his arms.
David concluded his story by saying that unforgettable moment of Teddy welcoming him home spoke to him of God. If Teddy would love and take him back after he had unexplainably separated from him for all those years, wouldn’t God do the same?
The story of Teddy is especially appropriate in the light of today’s readings.
It illustrates the kind of forgiveness God showed King David in the first reading.
It illustrates the kind of forgiveness Jesus showed to the woman in today’s Gospel.
It illustrates the kind of forgiveness that Jesus exercised throughout his lifetime. He forgave the paralyzed man. He forgave the adulterous woman. He forgave the good thief. He forgave his own executioners.
What Jesus practiced himself, throughout his lifetime, he also taught his followers to practice.
Forgiving those who wrong us is the central theme of a number of parables.
For example, it is the theme of the parable of the shepherd who went in search of the sheep that had strayed from the flock.
It is the theme of the parable of the lost coin that the woman had searched for so diligently.
It is the theme of the parable of the father who welcomed back his son who had run away from home.
Each of these parables makes the same point. Our heavenly Father is forgiving. Therefore, we, his children, should be forgiving as well.
Nor should we put a limit on our willingness to forgive. Jesus tells Peter that we should forgive one another not just seven times but “seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:22
But forgiving others does not mean foregoing justice.
Marcia Hootman and Patt Perkin make this point in their book How to Forgive Your Ex-Husband.
They cite the case of Pope John Paul II. He went to an Italian prison to forgive Mehmet Ali Agca, the gunman who tried to kill him. “But,” they say, “did you notice that the pope did not ask that Agca be let out on parole?”
British General James Oglethorpe had a number of noble traits, but by his own admission he had a major hang-up when it came to forgiving people who had wronged him.
He is reported to have said to John Wesley, “I never forgive.” Whereupon,Wesley said to him, “Then I hope, sir, you never sin.”
Wesley was reminding Oglethorpe of this warning of Jesus:
“[I]f you do not forgive others,then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.” Matthew 6:15
Nowhere is the need to forgive others made more explicit than in the Lord’s Prayer.
There we ask our heavenly Father to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Commenting on this petition, the Scottish theologian William Barclay says:
It is a dreadful thought that a man should ask God not to forgive him.Yet, that is precisely what the unforgiving man does when he prays this prayer.
To drive home this point Barclay cites the case of Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island.
One day, in the middle of praying the Lord’s Prayer with his family, Stevenson left the room. His wife followed after him, thinking he might be sick.
Catching up with him, she ask, “Are you feeling ill, Robert?” He said, “No, but I am not fit to pray the Lord’s Prayer today.”
Let us close with this final thought by the poet George Herbert:
People who cannot forgive others break the bridge over which they must pass if they are to reach heaven; For everyone has a need to be forgiven.