Summary: Our forgiveness invites God and other people to forgive us.
Monday of the 2nd Week in Lent 2021
The prophet Daniel was exiled to Babylon with many leading Israelites by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. At the time of this writing the Persians, who had conquered Babylon, are led by King Darius. Daniel has just realized that the time of Israel’s exile would be seventy years, which we know is one of those special numbers meaning a long, long time. So what he gives God, and us, is a short history of Israel’s dealings with God. And, in the process, he teaches us something about our relationship with our Lord.
Daniel sets up a clear dichotomy in the man-God relationship. God is great, awesome, always faithful to the covenant He set up with Israel many centuries before. Israel, on the other hand, has been consistently faithless, wicked, rebellious. God, in His mercy, had sent many prophets, the ones we know from the Bible and who knows how many more. And Israel still disobeyed. Therefore, Israel was scattered over the face of the earth. So they cringe in shame. But God did not destroy the nation, His people, even though they deserved that treatment. No, Daniel affirms that God’s characteristic compassion and forgiveness have not changed, even though Israel continued in wicked ways. God is always the same, always ready to forgive.
More about Daniel in a moment. The psalmist invites us today to pray to this same God for mercy. He invites us to admit our sins and ask for forgiveness, with God’s own help. And we ask God’s compassionate pardon for His name’s sake. That’s an expression constantly used in Hebrew prayer. What does it mean?
It goes back at least to Moses. When the people rebelled in the desert, God told Moses to step aside and let Him destroy the Israelites, and then let Him raise up a new and obedient people from Moses’ loins. Moses, ever the bargainer, told God that if He justly destroyed Israel, His divine reputation would be seriously damaged. The pagans in Egypt would trash the name of God saying that He rescued them from slavery only to destroy them in the desert. So what we are really doing when we ask for God’s forgiveness for the sake of His name is that God pardon our sins so as to add to His divine reputation as one who always hears prayer, always forgives. His mercy, then, would for generations be the subject of our high praise.
Saint Luke in his Gospel takes a different look at human sin. We know that there is no such thing as a solitary sin or a victimless crime. Every sin I commit certainly affects me adversely, but it changes me, a little or a lot, so that my prayer to God is also damaged, and my relationship with my family and the whole human family is also injured. But when someone else appears to be in that situation, Jesus does not want us to make it worse by judgement and condemnation. He seems to be speaking specifically about talebearing–sharing news about the sin with other people and making the sinner’s life worse rather than better.
Because all of us are sinners. If we treat other sinners badly, we invite the same judgement and condemnation to come back and hit us on the head. On the other hand, forgiveness invites the other to forgive. And Jesus promises that we will get way more back than we give, specifically of forgiveness. What might that mean?
The most important moment of our life will be the last moment. Every day we should keep that end in mind, whatever we do. That is exactly the moment that our forgiveness of others when they have injured us will reap its reward. The reward is our forgiveness by Jesus Christ, the judge of the world. And when Christ forgives, He promises to dump a whole truckload of mercy on us. So let’s all consider how we can emulate Our Lord by dumping truckloads of forgiveness and mercy on anyone who has damaged us.