26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 28th 2014
Ez 18:25-28; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32
The story behind divine forgiveness
“Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”
Anytime that I attend the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I love to hear the priest recite the entire formula for absolution over me:
“God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace. And I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Why do I prefer to hear the entire formula of absolution? Off course, it suffices for the priest to just say, “I absolve you from all your sins.” But shortening the rite of absolution when it is not pastorally necessary to do so denies the penitent the opportunity to remember the story behind God’s forgiveness. The complete formula that begins with the reconciling action of the Triune God reminds us that we are forgiven not because of our worth or anything that we do but because of God’s immense desire and readiness to reconcile us with Himself and with others at any cost whatsoever. Remembering the story behind our being forgiven increases our appreciation for this sacrament, making us grateful both for its effects in our life as well as for the price that was paid to avail us of this channel of grace.
What happens when we forget the story behind our being forgiven? Then we risk limiting the focus of the sacrament to the exchange between the penitent and the priest-confessor. It is then that we begin to give the numerous reasons why we do not go for confession frequently or do so half-heartedly without due preparation: “I have no time for confession.” “I have no sin to confess.” “I confessed already and failed to change.” “I am too ashamed or afraid of what the priest may think or say.” If only we could pause and remind ourselves of the story behind divine forgiveness, we will surely overcome these reasons and readily seek out reconciliation with God and with others.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus rebukes the chief priests and elders because they have no reason not to have had a change of heart and believed in John the Baptist’s preaching. Firstly, John was a true prophet who came to them “in the way of righteousness.” Secondly, the despised and condemned tax collectors and prostitutes believed in the Baptist’s mission and they “were entering the Kingdom of God before them.” Despite all these, the elders and chief priests “did not later change their minds and believe in him.” They failed to realize that in John the Baptist, God’s eternal plan to reconcile all of humanity with Himself in Christ was entering its final stage. On the other hand, tax collectors and prostitutes accepted God’s offer of reconciliation first proclaimed by the Baptist: “John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Lk3:3) The tax collectors and prostitutes sensed that God’s desire to forgive them was more powerful than the many years of living in sin and the pain, shame, and alienation from the community that sin had caused them.
The Philippian church was torn apart by the selfishness and conceit of its members. They experienced the factions because they forgot the story behind the forgiveness that they have received and how this divine forgiveness was to shape their relationship with one another. St. Paul’s hymn of Christ’s kenosis reminded them of God’s desire and readiness to reconcile them to Himself and to one another at any cost. In this divine reconciliation mission, Jesus “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at,” but humbled Himself, “taking the form of a slave.” He went further and became “obedient to death, even death on a cross.” God, who “did not spare His only Son,” exalted Christ and this led to “the glory of God the Father.” God is glorified when we are reconciled and united with Him in His Son Jesus, becoming like fruit-bearing branches united with the vine: “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.”(Jn 15:1, 8)
The remedy for all the division in the community is to “have among themselves the same attitude that is theirs in Christ Jesus.” Everything that Jesus Christ did and endured from the moment of His incarnation in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary was to reconcile us to God and to each other. In the words of the Catechism, “The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God.”(CCC #457) With Jesus Christ and like Him, our fundamental attitude must be to seek for this reconciliation with God and with others. The kingdom of God that we are called to belong to is primarily about accepting God’s offer of reconciliation with Himself and with others in Jesus Christ. We can only hope to bear fruit worthy of the kingdom of God when we are reconciled with God and with others.
We must recall frequently and meditate on the story behind divine forgiveness: God’s desire and readiness to reconcile us to Himself is greater than our desire to even repent of our sins. This divine desire and readiness is made present to us in and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we are reconciled with God and with others through the ministry of the Church and graced to bear fruit worthy of the kingdom. We must never forget the story that makes it possible to hear those words from the lips of an unworthy priest: “I absolve you from your sins.”
In His desire to reconcile us to Himself and with others, God moves us to repentance using both external signs and interior movements. He is the one who instils in us a desire to love Him more and to bring this love to others. He is the one who moves us to seek for this sacrament of Reconciliation so that our repentance can be concretely expressed in both penance and a reconciled relationship with others. In what ways are we feeling drawn to being reconciled with God and with others? What is holding back from responding positively to this invitation through this sacrament? Have we become so focused on our sins that we have forgotten God’s desire and readiness to reconcile us with Himself and with others?
Let us look to the heart of our Mother Mary in which is inscribed the complete story of our divine forgiveness. She who was united with our Redeemer from the moment of His Incarnation to the moment that He drew His last breath on the Cross “treasured all these things in her heart.” May she share with us the treasures of this beautiful story so that we may never let our sense of sin shake our confidence that God’s readiness and willingness to reconcile us with Himself and with others is greater than our desire to be reconciled with Him.
When we let this story behind divine forgiveness shape our lives and our relationship with others, God will be glorified, we shall bear fruit worthy of His kingdom and then, like the tax collectors and prostitutes, we shall proceed peacefully on our journey towards the kingdom of God.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!