“HOW MANY SECOND CHANCES DO I GET?” (Mt 18:21-35): 26 February 2008 (Tuesday)
There are times in your life when you just have to ask God, “How many second chances do I get?” These are the times when you’ve gone wrong–sometimes very wrong–and you know deep in your heart that no one who knows what you’ve done is ever going to accept you or love you or forgive you for what you’ve done. You could have sworn that any minute now, the earth would open up and swallow you alive.
A friend of mine once mentioned Anne Lamott’s two favorite prayers: “Thank you thank you thank you!” and “Help me help me help me!” I’ve called them “prayers without commas” because these are prayers that inevitably take on a breathlessly desperate tone when one prays them. To these two prayers, however, my friend added her own “prayer without commas”: “Sorry sorry sorry!”
I know what she means.
I know the desperation of repentance when we have performed acts that hurt others or diminish ourselves. When we pray, “Sorry sorry sorry!” we’re begging for God’s mercy. But also, it’s really a plea for the memory of the sin to to go away, so that when we finally remove the sheets from over our head, the sin will have miraculously disappeared.
Only, they don’t. The memories remain, if only to haunt us and to remind us to beg for God’s forgiveness.
Today’s Gospel account talks about forgiveness–God’s and ours. It reveals two things about our God. First, when we think and speak of God as a God of Justice, we must always remember that he is also–at the very same time–a God of Mercy. It’s a mystery that’s impossible for us to understand completely: that God’s justice is always wrapped by his mercy. Again and again, the Scriptures tell us stories of how God’s people turn away from him and sometimes turn against him, deserving to be punished, but again and again, God changes his mind and decides to spare his people from punishment. The heart of God is mercy.
But correct me if I’m wrong: Most of us seem to prefer to remember the justice part more than the mercy part. Is it because we prefer to fear God rather than to love him? Or is it because deep inside us we realize that to accept a God of boundless mercy has scary implications in our lives? Think about it.
The second thing that our Gospel account tells us about God is that he is a God who treats his children like adults. He respects our freedom, and takes our freedom seriously–often more seriously than we do so ourselves. Isn’t it a wonder that when our Lord sent out his disciples on a mission to preach the Good News, he instructs them to enter only the places where they are welcome, where the doors are opened for them? And in the houses where they are not welcome, they are supposed to leave–and not force their way in?
I think this tells us that our God is not like the big bad wolf who will huff and puff to blow away the door in order to invade our lives. He has given us the precious gift of freedom, and he will do nothing to take that away from us. He will never force his way into our lives. He will only stand outside the door of our hearts, and knock. Only when we freely decide to let him in will he enter and make his dwelling place with us.
Come to think of it, the gift of freedom that God has given us is a precious, but dangerous gift. It is a fatal gift. In our hands God has placed the power to welcome him and listen to his Word, but also the power to reject him and to be separated from him completely and forever. God is a God of mercy. He is a God of second chances. But in the end, he leaves it to us whether or not we want to avail of his mercy. In the last analysis, it will be our choice whether or not to permit his word to enter our hearts or to reject it. More than the prospect of our Lord’s judgment, I think this–the prospect of a hell that is our own doing and our own choice–is far more frightening.
But going back to our question, “How many second chances do I get?” I think the answer that the Lord gives is: “As many second chances as I’m willing to give others.”
Our Quick Question for the day: “What do you think has been the hardest thing for you to forgive others? Can you think of what probably has been the hardest thing for God to forgive you?” Think about it, and share a thought, a feeling, or a question.
(image: the Chinese character for “forgiveness” — a combination of the characters for “woman,” “mouth,” and “heart”)