Friday 19 September 2014

Being a Missionary Church

In the Gospel reading for today we have heard how a woman who was a sinner approached our Lord while he was a guest at the house of a Pharisee, and how in her love for him she washed his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, and anointed him with fragrant oil. Our Lord was criticised by the Pharisee for allowing a sinful person to touch him, but our Lord used the occasion to tell a parable. The parable described how the measure of a person’s love for God is proportional to the sense which that person had of the forgiveness which had been received by them.

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We know the parable. There were two men who owed someone some money. Neither could pay their debt, and the one who was owed the money forgave them both. Our Lord asked the Pharisee which of the two would love the most and the Pharisee responded reasonably that it would be the one who had been forgive most.

Now for many years I rather understood this parable in the sense that because I had not been a great sinner such as a murderer, I could not be expected to love God as much as I might like. If only those who had been forgiven much were able to offer an abundance of love to God then it seemed that I must be doomed to love God only rather half-heartedly. Indeed it is easy to move from such a view to one which says that it is not really my fault if I don’t love God as much as he deserves.

But I think that this is to completely misunderstand the Christian life. We are each of us the recipients of so much unmerited forgiveness. The problem is not that we have not been forgiven much, but rather that we do not often recognise all that we have received from God.

If we remember that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden for breaking one simple commandment. If we remember that the children of Israel spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness because of one failure to have faith in God. If we remember that the person who breaks one point of the Law of God is guilty of breaking it all. Surely if we have a grasp of how serious a matter sin is then we would realise that even in our petty weaknesses and sins we deserve only to be separated from God in the experience of eternal death and darkness.

Generally speaking we are much less deserving of God’s mercy than we think. We tend to be slow to turn to God. We lack faith in God’s goodness. We become angry and self-centred. In all of these things, and so many more, we are deserving of punishment. Our Lord teaches us that to be angry without cause is the same as murder, and to look lustfully at another person is the same as adultery. We are not as deserving as we like to think.

What is required of us, if we wish to have a proper appreciation of what we have received from God, is that we are properly aware each day of how far we fail to live out the Christian life. This should not be a negative and depressing process of reflection, rather it should lead us always towards God in repentance and hopefulness. Repentance, because we must turn away from our selfish desires each day, and hopefulness because it is only God who can give us the grace we need to live a life of holiness and Christian devotion.

The sinful woman was very much aware of her real condition before God. This is where we are often blinded by pride. We do not wish to count ourselves with the sinners so we discount much of our behaviour as not being so bad, certainly not so bad as that of really sinful people.  But if we are not able to be aware of our weakness, failures and sin then we cannot receive forgiveness, and we cannot offer grateful and heartfelt love towards God.

What is required of us? Let me urge you to spend some time each evening in recalling your behaviour and attitudes through the day. Be critical of yourself and do not excuse your hasty words and sinful behaviour. If you have sinned then confess it to God before the day is ended. But having offered your sin to God then give thanks that he does forgive those who humble themselves before him. Ask him to give you all that you need to overcome these sins and commit yourself before him to try to live a more Christian life each day.

If we will not remember our sins then we will not be grateful for God’s forgiveness. To remember our sins is not to live in misery and defeat. It is to rejoice that we have a Saviour who wishes to help us to overcome these sins and live a life which is more completely filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

In the words of the Gospel today, who is this who even forgives sins? We know the answer to this question. Therefore let us be honest with God and with ourselves, not only in the sacrament of confession which we must make use of, but in a daily review of our lives before God in prayer.

If we are more aware of our sins we will grow in humility, and in generosity towards others who also struggle with sin. But we will also have a greater sense of thankfulness towards God. It is the one who knows that they are forgiven much each day who will offer thanks and love to God each day. Let us be Christians who are filled with thankful love, to the glory of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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