Jesus makes some pretty difficult demands of his disciples. Like I said last week, he didn’t just teach the 12, but thousands followed him as Rabbi, and he made the same Kingdom claims to them as well. He invited his disciples to love their enemies. He invites us to do the same. He invited his disciples to pray for those who persecuted them. He invited us to do the same (though I caution that American Christians of all stripes don’t really know what persecution feels like). In his teaching around the wilted fig tree on Tuesday in Holy Week, Jesus invited his disciples “when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” He invites us to do the same.
Nobody said it would be easy, this following Jesus in the Way of the Cross bit. My friend Jan wrote a great piece on these difficult teachings as it relates to the two marriage equality issues before the Supreme Court this week. You should read it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
These ideas about love, prayer, and forgiveness, while not foreign to Episcopalians, certainly don’t get much play in everyday life. Heck, we even have Matthew’s take on it as one of our Offertory Sentences (BCP, p. 376), though I guarantee it is never used. “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23, 24”
Here we have two sides of the same coin. In Mark, the call is to forgiveness. In Matthew, it is reconciliation. One focuses on the offended, the other on the offender, yet either way, the challenge is a difficult one. One that is impossible without the help and grace of God. Over the course of the next few days, Jesus will live out his teaching, to the point of forgiving even those who nailed him to the cross. Maybe, as we walk the way of the cross, we can strive for small gains: forgiving a past preacher who offended us, a teacher who doubted our abilities, a parent who we could never impress, a sibling who built themselves up by putting us down.
Jesus is clear, in order to fully receive the forgiveness of God, we must be about the business of forgiveness in our own lives. It isn’t easy, nobody said it would be, but starting with small offences will open the flood gates.