Making Space for Others

(September 17, 2017)

Message: God makes space for us and wants us to do that for others in practical ways: in our parking lot, in our pews and in our personal relations.

The message for today is about salvation: experiencing God's mercy and inviting others. In our opening prayer (collect) we asked God "that we may feel the working of your mercy." Mercy refers to God's salvation in Jesus.

In the Hebrew Scriptures salvation has a sense of wide open spaces. In the Psalms we sometimes see the "cords of death" ensnaring a man but then the Lord delivers him into open space. Psalm 23 contrasts the "dark valley" with "verdant pastures." That's a glimpse of salvation.

Today's Gospel has that sense of wide open space. Jesus tells about a man trapped under a mountain of debt. He feels hemmed in on all sides. All of sudden the man gets an unexpected reprieve. It's like entering a wide open space. The possibilities seem endless. That's mercy. That's salvation.

If God shows us his mercy he wants us to do the same for others. During the summer we had a series on Spiritual Warfare - Strengthening Marriages and Families for Spiritual Warfare. In war it's crucial to keep supply lines open. That means not allowing the enemy to cut us off but to stay connected to God's mercy - and helping other not get hemmed in. Jesus opens a space for us and insists we do the same for others.

Let me illustrate. A priest friend was just beginning Mass when he noticed a young couple enter. They had three children and were looking for a place to sit. The regular parishioners occupied the premium seats - those in the back of the church and next to the aisle. Never know when you have to make a quick exit!

Well, as that little family looked for seats, no one moved to the center to make a space for them. When the congregation sat for the readings, one man moved his knees a bit, but the couple wasn't up to maneuvering their children around those knees. The priest told me he almost said something, but by then the couple had retreated to the back of the church. He looked for them after Mass - and on following Sundays - but never saw them again.

Now, you might say that couple should learn to come early. At the same time we could ask: If God creates a space for us, if he shows us undeserved mercy and salvation, shouldn't we go out of our way to make space for others?

I've heard of parishes where regular parishioners park in the furthest spots and leave the closest ones for visitors and newcomers. And after walking 40 or 50 yards, they go toward the front and take seats in the center of the pew. They create a physical space for newcomers because they know God has done that for them - he has shown his mercy, his salvation.

Mercy, salvation, making a space, can involve something as simple as parking and pews. It can also have deep application to our personal relationships. Once I told you that we should treat each person as if he has a broken heart - and you will not be wrong. We need to make space for the other person, to help him with his burden. God lifts our debt. Should we not do the same for the other? In fact are we not required to? Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Once I made a retreat with a community of religious brothers. At the conclusion of Night Prayer they say, "My brother, if I have offended you in any way - by word, action, expression or omission - I beg your forgiveness. And I forgive you any wrong you may have done to me." God cancels out your debt and mine which is huge - bigger than the national debt. God makes a space for us, on the condition - I repeat, on the condition - that we do the same for others.

This brings us back to our opening prayer. Remember we asked God "that we might feel the working of your mercy." By mercy God saves us. In Jesus he creates a space even for me and for you. God makes space for us and wants us to do that for others in practical ways: in our parking lot, in our pews and in our personal relations. Jesus say it direct in the Gospel acclamation: "I give you a new commandment; love one another as I have loved you." Amen.

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Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twenty-Fourth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Finding Your Place Week 6 (Feast of the Holy Cross)
2011: How to Forgive
2005: He Remembers Their Sins in Detail
2002: Not Entitled to Forgiveness
1999: Forgive or Excuse?

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