Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Forgiveness, Mercy and Grace-A Christian Story

(Wednesday of the 2nd Week of Lent-Year B; This homily was given on 11 March, 2009 at the Chapel of The American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain, Belgium; See Jeremiah 18:18-20 and Matthew 20:17-28)

There is a movie that came out a number of years ago starring Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt called The Devil’s Own. Harrison Ford plays New York City police officer Tom O’Meara who agrees to welcome an exchange student from Ireland to live with him and his family.

That is where Frankie Maguire (played by Brad Pitt) comes in. In truth, Frankie is not an exchange student at all. He is a soldier in the Irish Republican Army and has come to the United States with a lot of money to purchase weapons so that he can return to Ireland and continue to fight for the cause.

As the film develops there is a very revealing dialogue in which Frankie suddenly shares a terrible and tragic moment from his childhood in Ireland. He tells Tom how people came in and shot his dad right in front of their family. Tom can hardly believe it and just looks at him, stunned and speechless.

Eventually the police officer within him starts to question and he asks about the people who committed that horrible crime. Did they get caught? Were they brought to justice? Frankie turns to him and replies with what could very well be the theme of the entire movie. He says:

“Don’t go looking for happy endings, Tom.
It’s not an American story.
It’s an Irish one.”

American stories are inherently focused on the happy ending; the good guys always come out on top and the bad guys get what they have coming; all the wrongs are set right and everything is packaged up neatly in the end.

Frankie Maguire is saying, “Don’t go looking for that in my story, because you will not find it. My story is a different story.”

We would do well to have that same caution when we read the Scriptures. If we are trying to force an American story into our reading of the Scriptures we will inevitably end up frustrated.

Look at the story of Jeremiah that we listen to this morning. Jeremiah is being denounced by the people around him, who are focused on his demise. They have come out against an innocent man to destroy him. As we listen to this story we may be tempted to wish that God would do to them what they are trying to do to Jeremiah!

The same could be said for our gospel. Christ talks about how the Son of Man will be mocked and scourged and crucified. We all know the story: how the Roman soldiers spat in His face, tied Him up and beat Him; how the Pharisees and Scribes derided Him while He suffered and died on the cross. A part of us would like to see Almighty God bring down the hammer on those people!

But that is an American story. Here the hammer comes down upon the hands and feet of Christ instead, because the story of the gospel is not an American story, nor is it an Irish one. The story of the gospel is a Christian story, and at the heart of that story we discover the mercy, forgiveness and overwhelming grace of Almighty God.

If we fail to understand this essential point then we will never understand the message of the gospel. Worse still, if we fail to recognize this core plot in the story of God and His plan for our salvation then we will never really understand ourselves and the purpose of our lives here on earth.

But it is possible to hear and discern that story and that message on almost every page of the Scriptures, if we tune in and listen. Listen to Jeremiah this morning, as he says:

Heed me, O Lord, and listen to what my adversaries say. Must good be repaid with evil that they should dig a pit to take my life? Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them.
—Jeremiah 18:19-20

All the while they were speaking about Jeremiah and plotting his destruction, Jeremiah had been speaking about them, “behind their backs,” asking God to spare them and grant them His mercy. There was an internal dialogue going on, a conversation between Jeremiah and God, for their well being.

The same is true for the gospel. Christ describes His own suffering and death, yet even while those terrible events will take place, Christ will continue that internal dialogue with God for them: Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).

Is it possible that the conflicts, trials and difficulties that we are experiencing in our own lives right now, have been allowed by God not only for our own sanctification, for that strengthening of the relationship we share with Him, but perhaps also for the people around us, as well?

Is it possible that God is calling us more deeply into that internal dialogue with Him, to speak with Him about the people in our lives that cause us sorrow and pain by their words and actions and what they have failed to do to help us?

I believe that it is entirely possible because the life we are called to in Christ—at its very core—is not merely an American story, nor an Irish one. It is a Christian story and has the forgiveness, mercy and overwhelming grace of God at its very foundation.

Might we allow Christ to continue writing that story in our lives this Lent as we become more docile and open to all that he wants to say to us—and through us—in the days ahead.