Some random thoughts on this Saturday of the second full week of Lent….
Forgiveness leads to reconciliation when the forgiven one undergoes conversion. Today’s gospel reading, the parable of the prodigal son, illustrates that truth. In all the struggles of my life around forgiveness, both mine for other people and God’s for me, I realize that there is a tendency to confuse – perhaps even equate – “forgiveness” with “reconciliation.”
Forgiveness, we are taught, is the simple act of wanting good things, rather than revenge/harm/retribution for someone who has wronged us. Forgiveness is an act of love, and on the human level it is as much an act of healing for the forgiver as it is for the forgiven. It was only after much soul-searching and prayer that I finally understood that reconciliation is a separate thing and that it is not an automatic sequel to forgiveness.
Forgiveness, you see, is unilateral (again, in human terms). It does not require the person I am forgiving to ask for it or even want it; it can occur even if that person is actively opposed to the idea. This is so because of the very nature of forgiveness. I can consciously take the step of desiring good things for that person; I can put myself in the mindset of rejecting any notion of retribution or revenge or wishing ill for that person. I can pray for that person and ask God to bless that person with good things, and I can do so without testing God by telling Him what I think those things ought to be. The act of forgiveness is liberating and healing for me, and when I take that last step of praying for the person I am forgiving, I am actively wishing good for that person.
Reconciliation, in contrast, is bilateral. The very structure of the word suggests putting back together two things which once were together and somehow were separated. Reconciliation requires conscious, willing participation by both people. For reconciliation to occur, as in the parable of the prodigal son, there must be a conversion. Only when the forgiven one knows that the other’s forgiveness is needed, and only when the forgiven one becomes willing to change as a result of acknowledging the wrong he or she has done, is the path to reconciliation opened. And once that path is opened, it requires a response from the one who does the forgiving. As in the parable, the father never stopped loving his son; he wanted only good things for his son. The prodigal son, however, takes a long time to understand the wrong he has done and to decide to return to his father. When he does return, his conversion complete, we see that the father’s forgiveness has been there all along. What happens when the prodigal son approaches and the father runs out to meet him – that, my friends, is the reconciliation.
We also tend to confuse our forgiveness with God’s forgiveness. We forget that God’s forgiveness is perfect and always present in our lives. What is so wonderful about God’s forgiveness is that it is perfectly and inextricably intertwined with reconciliation. In the relationship God has with us, He is so ready and so eager to forgive that on the instant of our conversion – our admission that we have sinned and separated ourselves from him and that we want to come back to Him – He is there with both forgiveness and reconciliation.
I realize now that I do not struggle with forgiveness. I struggle with reconciliation, because in some of my relationships, I am the only one seeking it. And in that realization, I find the opportunity for prayer, which turns out to be the best solution for every struggle, every dilemma.
And another thing…The 4:00 p.m. daily prayer reminder I have set up is tied to the statement, “Jesus rejoices when we turn to Him in love.” And I was just thinking about that earlier this morning. Every day at 4:00 I read that sentence, and I think some general thoughts about loving Jesus, and I go on with my day. Something has changed over the past few days, though. I have been walking through my days in a very conversational relationship with Jesus as I seek discernment about an important decision in my life, and it began to feel very natural to end those conversations, as I often end conversations with family members and dear friends, with, “I love you.”
How many times a day do we consciously say to our Jesus, “I love you”? I’m finding that the more often I do so, the more often I think of it. In any relationship that is precious to me, those words are common between us. And the more precious the relationship, the more emphatic the pronouncement of love.
Being in love with Jesus, when you become aware of it, has all the excitement and joy we associate with being in love, but without the doubts and uncertainties of ordinary love for another person.
And there I will leave it for this last day of the second week of Lent in 2019.
Leave a Reply