Second Sunday of Lent
This Sunday, the second reading will be from Rom 8:31b-34. I strongly recommend reading beginning at verse 18, for context. Usually, I try to pull in all of the readings for mass, but this week, I just didn't understand the connection between all three together.
Instead, I'm going to invite you to also read the first chapter of Isaiah, particularly verses 21-28, and Matthew 18: 21-35.
Isaiah lays out in chapter 1 all of the ways in which, under the Law, God has a legal complaint against his people, Israel. They’ve transgressed both the spirit and the letter of his laws.
In the same way, we sin against one another and God, and we deserve all of his wrath. If God gave us real justice, none of us would deserve any better than Hell. We are dead in our trespasses if we don’t trust in the Lord for our salvation. We can’t earn it. [Note: See Mouseover!!]
For those who are in Christ Jesus, it has been earned already.
Beginning in Romans 8:18, Paul reflects on the the destiny of those who are in Christ Jesus. I think that he is speaking in the “eternal” sense when he says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
In the temporal sense, it’s pretty clear who can be against us. The whole world. It’s expected that the world will hate us - declared in Scripture. The world hated Jesus first - of course, it’s going to hate us, too.
So, in the eternal sense, let’s try to understand this.
The passage in Romans goes on to demand, “Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn?”
This begged for me, this question: If God is not standing on his rights with me, who on earth has any similar, substantial claim? Who on earth has a complaint that even compares?
Nobody, that’s who.
Remember the parable of the unforgiving servant? How he owed a debt that he could never hope to repay, and the master showed him mercy because he begged for it. The master later exacted justice on that servant because he stood on his “rights” when he really didn’t have any business doing it. The master had forgiven him freely, and yet this servant refused to do likewise for his fellow servant.
In spite of this warning, we hold grudges against others. The one who actually has a reason to complain isn’t complaining against them, and we are? How petty! What unproductive, unforgiving servants we are!
And we hold them against ourselves, too. It’s called “festering, unproductive guilt”. Who are we to second guess him? Even for our most serious sins, who are we to second guess him? If we’re really sorry, we’ve tried to make amends, and we’ve brought it to confession, why do we keep beating ourselves up about them?
A wise priest once told me that there is a kind of guilt that is not a conviction of the Holy Spirit. If the Devil can use our guilt to separate us from God, (by convincing us that we have to earn God’s forgiveness before receiving it) then he has us right where he wants us.
It’s important to distinguish between feeling convicted, and feeling like we have to do something to earn God’s forgiveness. It can be hard; and we have to rely on God to help us see it.
Let’s pray this week that the Holy Spirit give us eyes to see the difference between his conviction and something that doesn’t come from him. Let us ask that God give us the ability to forgive where we need to forgive, to ask forgiveness where we should, and for the ability to forgive ourselves.