’s Mark Kurowski reflects on whether we are real about forgiveness or just paying lip service.  Who ought to be forgiven? Upon what do we base our forgiveness? Do all people deserve to be forgiven?  Listen to this podcast of his reflection on the readings for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Please read Luke 7:36-8:3.   #ForgivenProstitutes #Luke7 #ServantLeader #Sermons #Homilies

Forgiven: A Reflection on Luke 7:36-8:3

by Mark Kurowski | MySpiritualAdvisor2013, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 6/16/2013The 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

 Please pause this audio and read Luke 7:36-8:3.

Have you ever walked down the street and seen people dressed in a certain way and think, “Oh, they must be a banker.” Or, “Oh, they must work at a garage.” We associate the way that people dress and the way that people have their hair, if they have tattoos, if they have dirty or primped hair, are wearing dirty clothes or squeaky clean lime green polyester. We have a tendency to think of character issues and associate them with the way that someone looks. Or, we might associate the moral attributes of a person with how they look or what they do for a living.

         This may be appropriate in some cases. There are certain things that we think of when we think of prostitutes, and moral purity is not one of them. Who would know what to say to someone if you said, “So, what do you do for a living?” and they said, “I am a prostitute”? The conversation might continue something like this: cough, clear your throat, cough and say, “um, well, so where are you from?”

The fact of the matter is that all of us have people that we think are worthy of forgiveness and others that we believe are not worthy of forgiveness. There is a desire within us for people who do bad or immoral things to get punished. But after we punish them, then what? Do we feel any better? Or is it that we think forgiveness has something to do with us feeling better or feeling less hatred, less judgment?

The Gospel Lesson from St. Luke today is telling us that if we think that forgiveness is a feeling, we couldn’t be any further from the truth. Forgiveness has nothing to do with how we feel about someone. Forgiveness has to do with people who once were far off from God who have now come near.

         The fact that the Pharisee concluded that Jesus could not be a prophet because he associated with a prostitute, tells us more about the Pharisee than it does about Jesus. The Pharisee, and a reading of the law would say that he is justified in a sense, determined that the prostitute was immoral and impure. For reasons of purity and ability to worship God, the Pharisee is uncomfortable with the presence of the prostitute. Just like we do by the way we react to how someone looks or by what they do for a living, the Pharisee sent away the prostitute in his heart.

         Jesus’ response to the whole situation of this prostitute coming to the gathering actually undoes what the Pharisee thinks in the first place. Jesus’ welcomes the woman and he rejoices at her repentance because he has come for the repentance of the world. So, for instance, why would a prostitute in our day and age come to church, but to repent of her sins? So, if anyone is coming in repentance, then Jesus is going to rejoice. Shouldn’t we rejoice at that, too? If someone who is doing something wrong in our community decides to come to church, we ought to rejoice, because Jesus came for their repentance.

         So, maybe the problem with the Pharisee and with us is that our hearts are not in tune with what people who are called to be the “people of God” should want.

When we categorize people by what they wear or how they look, or what they do, then without even noticing it, we often times treat them in a way that keeps them where they are in our minds. I believe that we have people in our congregations who have experienced being treated in a way that was predetermined based upon how they looked or by what they did for a living. So, if our hearts want to believe that certain people are not worth the price of admission, then we will treat them like they are outsiders. When someone treats you like an outsider, it is far easier to act like one.

Jesus’ action of accepting the prostitute is an act that says that forgiveness is for all people, even those that we deem unable to repent.   Jesus came to offer forgiveness to those who repented of their sin. The offer was for anyone and everyone who repented of their sin. Whether it was this prostitute in the story or Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon Bomber, anyone who repents, or would repent, of their sin, can come.

 As people who follow the God-man, Jesus Christ, who died to give life, how can we desire that anyone not repent? Isn’t that what we are all about, hoping and working toward the repentance of the world? As people who follow the God-man, Jesus Christ, who died to give life, don’t we desire that everyone we meet would know the healing power of Christ? As people who follow the God-man, Jesus Christ, who died to give life, how can we rejoice over the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the other Boston Marathon Bomber? That is just as cold and uncaring as his nonchalance at the death of his victims. Where does desiring that people wouldn’t repent come into the issue of forgiveness? When would we ever want someone to die without forgiveness? That runs contrary to what we gather in our Churches to proclaim: the shedding of Christ’s blood for the forgiveness of sins.

         When a young man in my neighborhood continued to burglarize houses, he needed to repent. If he repented, he would have seen how awful his life is. When he would see how awful his life is, then his gladness would be far greater than someone who had very little to repent about.

This whole thing is hard, I estimate, because we do not have the desire that the world be saved in our heart, really. If we desired that the world be saved, then our anger would be righteous anger that seeks to change things or confront evil so that it will change. Anger that is in our hearts that is out for revenge is only confirmation that we believe that evil overcomes good and only evil can be used to triumph over evil. We do not believe that.

When Sandi, Caleb and I were watching the History Channel one time, the story was about Robert Burns. He was a man who was arrested in Georgia for robbing a store. As part of his punishment he was put into the cruel situation of a chain gang. He escaped not once, but twice. Between the first and second time of being on the chain gang, he ran a thriving business in Chicago and was highly respected. When he escaped the chain gang, he did not take up arms to destroy it. He took up a pen.

 He wrote the book I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang. It was in confronting the evil of the treatment of prisoners with leg irons and severe whippings with the proclamation of a book that the national conscience was stirred. When that proclamation, that naming of evil, was pronounced, people began to take notice and now even attempts at reviving chain gangs fail.

Being angry is alright when there is sin being committed against us. We ought to expect others to be angry when we sin against them. But that anger does not give us license to sin. It gives us the responsibility to name the evil and to work for its transformation. That is why Jesus came and died on the Cross. He died to transform us from sinful creatures who were separated from God into people who are reconciled and working for the good of all people in the world.

         When I was working against the proliferation of strip clubs in Gary, IN in the early 200s, I invited as many people as possible who were involved in the liquor board hearings on the other side of the issue to come to my church. I remember that a man named George Paras, the attorney for the strip club owner Andy Andreou and Club Topz owners, told me he would be in my church on November 19 of that year. Although he didn’t shown up, if he had entered that door, my response should not be like that of the Pharisee, “Oh, no, what is that unclean person doing here!” My response should have been and should be an anticipation that he had been changed by God.

When I became a father to my first child, I hoped that this child would have the best that life could offer. I wanted him to have a strong faith, a sense of purpose and a desire for learning. For each child thereafter, I wanted the same things. This is the same for the Father in Heaven. It is not the desire of God the Father that people die in sin. It is not his desire that anyone would not be part of him. I think that this is one reason why God forgives. He forgives because it is his desire that people become faithful.

For those of us who love God, don’t we really want what is best for everyone? Don’t we believe that what is best is for everyone to repent of their sin and follow Christ?

         I know that there are certain people in my life that I, deep down inside, hope they never change. I think I feel this way so that I won’t have to change. What would I have done if my father decided that he was truly interested in my life while he was living? The thought almost terrified me. How would have I put aside all of those things that he did which were wrong to me? Well, the answer is, I think that I wouldn’t have and we don’t.

This prostitute in the story came because she was repentant. She was thankful that she had been forgiven. We do not have to deny that we have been wronged or that evil exists. In fact, how can there be forgiveness unless we look evil in the eye and call it what it is. The prostitute came to give thanks because she recognized her sin. It had been named and confronted. She came to see Jesus because she was very thankful. We ought to say, “Thanks be to God!” for everyone who turns from sin and lives a life full of Christ.

         We are the people of the Way, the Truth and the Life. That means that we are to hope that everyone would repent and follow Jesus–even us. When our desire is that all people repent of their sin and change, then our hope is not that “they get what is coming to them,” even when they have done us wrong. Our hope is that they would repent and know the benefits of loving Christ Jesus. When they do come to know Christ, they will be as greatly thankful as great as was their sin.

So, what is stopping you? Lift up in prayer today people that you have to forgive. Lift up in prayer those people so that God will change their hearts. If you need to, ask God to change the focus of your hearts so that you can pray for their repentance and then rejoice when they do. Amen? Amen.

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