To Forgive the Unforgivable

(Homily for Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A)

Fr Ray Carey relates this remarkable story of forgiveness: A religious sister, dying of an unusual form of cancer, agreed to participate in an experimental treatment program. It involved daily injections of a powerful drug. When the doctor got to her room, he was carrying a tray of syringes, each one carefully marked with a patient's name. In a moment of distraction he picked up the syringe meant for the next patient - a man 100 pounds heavier than the sister. When he injected it into the her arm, he immediately realized the dose was fatal. Seeing his horrified expression, the sister and her friends knew what happened. The sister grabbed the doctor by the shoulders and said, “I absolve you for what you've done. You must continue your work and not be crushed by guilt.” Then she turned to her friends, “I forbid you to bring a case against this doctor or the hospital.” Within two hours she died.

It’s hard for us to comprehend real forgiveness. We tend to think forgiveness means denying that sin exists. “Don’t worry. It was nothing. Forget it.” I have heard people talk about their “unconditional acceptance” of others. But then they run into a real person (different from the ones who inhabit their imaginary world) who offends them. Their unconditional love vanishes and they lash out, determined to get even. I have actually heard people say, “I am a very accepting, forgiving person. But what he did is unforgivable.”

To unmask such hypocrisy Jesus did something dramatic. He ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Decent folk despised them – and for good reason. What they had done was considered beyond forgiveness. They were betrayers and corruptors. I hesitate to use this comparison, but I don’t know how else to make the point: it would be like Billy Graham having lunch with a group of child molesters. Why is he ruining his reputation by eating with them? He actually seems to like them!

Jesus did such outrageous things because he did not want to simply talk about mercy. He wanted people to see it in action. Ultimately he would do for each one of us what the religious sister did for the young doctor. He absolves us from our crime – and even from our guilt. Not by saying, “Don’t worry. You didn’t mean it. It was nothing.” No, it was something, but Jesus wishes to absorb it into his open wounds. This is an amazing grace which comes with a single condition. That we ask him to somehow make us conduits of divine mercy:

“Go and learn the meaning of the words,
'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mt 9:13)

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Versión Castellana

From Archives:

Tenth Sunday, Year A, 2008: Like Spring Rain
2005: The Desire for Revenge
2002: To Forgive the Unforgivable

Bulletin (Bishops Meeting in Dallas, Cloning, Ordinations)

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Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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The Real Issue Is Fidelity by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus (USA Today article)

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