Every Sunday, at every Mass, perhaps even more frequently, we say the words of the Lord’s Prayer. And within that prayer is a petition that has some difficulty built into it. “Forgive us our trespasses,” we pray, “As we forgive those who trespass against us.” The Presbyterians say “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” and the newer ecumenical version says simply, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
I hope that the phrase means that like I try to forgive other people, God would also forgive me. But what if the prayer really implies that God will forgive us insofar as we are able to forgive others? What if God’s forgiveness of me hinges upon, depends upon even, my ability to forgive others? If that’s the case, I might be in some trouble.
In both our first reading and our Gospel, we see that forgiveness often involves relationship. And for forgiveness to flow steadily, to be given or received, the relationships need to be in order, or at least the relationships need to be honest.
In our first reading we see King David, who has done just about everything he can do in order to move Uriah toward the front of the battle, so that David can have Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, for himself. Sure enough, Uriah is killed in battle, and David moves in for the woman he wants. But God sends Nathan the prophet to King David, and Nathan tells David this story about a man who had a perfect little lamb. But a stranger came into town and demanded the lamb. David hears the story and responds that this is unfair, unjust. The one who demands the lamb should be punished. And Nathan shows David that David, himself, is that man—the one whose greed and lust blinds him his own guilt. He needs to come clean before he can receive God’s forgiveness. He needs to come to a new place of honesty and clarity before God’s grace can flow.
In the Gospel, a woman approaches Jesus. She begins to bathe and anoint his feet with her tears and with an expensive ointment. The religious leaders, the Pharisees, are appalled at this. They ask Jesus, “Don’t you know who she is? Don’t you know what she’s done?
But Jesus DOES know her, and he knows all about her. He knows that God made her. He knows that God loves her, and he also knows (somehow) that she is sorry for her past and wants to move into the future – free, clean, and new. And so Jesus forgives her.
Forgiveness doesn’t happen in the abstract, it happens between two people, usually between two very human people. God helps the forgiveness, and there are times when I need God’s help to move me a little further one way, and sometimes I need God’s help to move the other person a little further. God desires forgiveness, a clearing of the air, so it’s not a difficult prayer to pray. But forgiveness is often very difficult to do.
And yet, a couple of weeks ago, the baseball world saw an amazing interchange of not only sportsmanship, but also of forgiveness, forgiveness of biblical proportion. I’m certainly not the first person to point to the unusual nature of the Detroit – Cleveland game.
Some of you know the story much better than I. It was a game that could have made history, with Armando Galarraga pitching a perfect game, 27 batters up, 27 batters down. Since 1880, there have only been 20 perfect games.
But there was a play that had Galarraga throwing the ball to first base. The ball got there before the runner, but the umpire, Jim Joyce, called the runner safe. The mistake in the call was almost immediately seen by the crowd, and instant reply showed it to be without question, the wrong call.
But then the most amazing thing happened. Galarraga simply smiled. As others have pointed out, Galarraga didn’t call his lawyer or the players union. He just went back to work.
When the umpire, Jim Joyce saw the video, he had tears in his eyes as he told reporters, “I just missed the [damn] call. I took a perfect game away from that kid over there who worked his [ ] off all night.” After talking briefly with the reporters, Joyce went to the Tigers’ locker room to apologize to Galarraga. Galarraga said later, ‘Nobody’s perfect. I understand. I feel for the guy.”
Forgiveness, when it happens, involves that sense of one’s being fully centered in oneself, knowing who one is, and knowing what’s most important. Jesus seems to have been like this in his dealings with people—he was so deeply connected to God, that he could understand the depth of God’s love for all people, and could extend that love. I don’t know if either Galarraga or Joyce is a person of faith (though something tells me that somewhere there is a Venezuelan mother and an Irish mother who can take some credit for their boys’ good manners). But both men certainly exemplified what it means to forgive.
“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
I still don’t really know whether my sins are forgiven based upon my own capacity to forgive, or whether the Lord’s Prayer suggests that forgiveness is similar in both directions, but I pray that we, all of us, might be so filled with the spirit of forgiving and being forgiven that we would lose track of who makes the first step, we would forget who made the first wound, and we would forget the time when we were not at peace.
May God forgive us, bless us, and continue to show us how to love one another.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.