Daniel 3:25, 34-43
A very holy monk was once asked in a television interview what were the present day challenges to Christianity? He paused for a moment, reflected, and looking directly into the camera said: "the arrogance and hypocrisy of the Christians!" I was very impressed with the truthfulness of his answer.
I contend that what attracts women and men to Christianity is an encounter with Jesus the Christ. Sometimes that encounter happens in church, while reading the scriptures or maybe while pondering a piece of art, music or the natural world. However the primary way most of us encounter Christ is through other believers. People who live Christ! People who allow the Risen Christ to live in them! They may not be saints, they are probably not perfect, more often than not, they are folks just like us who struggle, who question, who strive, but there is an attractive piece (or peace) about them and that is their relationship to Jesus!
"You have the walk the walk and not just talk the talk!" – a famous statement in 12 Step Spirituality. Today’s gospel is about just that. "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Matthew’s community needed a lot of forgiveness. Scholars think the gospel of Matthew was written for the church in Antioch – a church filled with strife. It was a community of both Jewish converts and Gentile believers. Each staking their claims as to what it meant to follow this Jesus, this Christ. Some in the community believed that "not one jot or tittle of the Law" would be abrogated. Others, reflecting the Apostle Paul’s preaching, believed that in Christ all was made new – there were no more Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – no more need for the Mosaic Law. Naturally this caused conflict and need among the community for reconciliation. Put yourself in that situation. Would you be attracted to a community where there was constant fighting, exclusive cliques, harsh words, backbiting, and power plays? How does that reflect Christ? Isn’t this exactly what the holy monk is talking about???!!! Hence Matthew retelling this encounter of Peter and Jesus.
As we move into the last stretch of Lent perhaps we need to remember the basics. We all who bear the name of Christ must walk the walk and not just talk the talk! Forgiveness is the prime message of Christianity. On the part of the perpetrator is the process of admitting your wrong and asking for healing. On the part of the victim it is putting aside ones self-righteousness and offering healing. And we do this not just for the sake of ourselves but rather because we follow a crucified, condemned Savior. We do this because we can do no other if we wish to bear the name Christian. We do this because even he, the most innocent, healed the world by forgiving all of us from His heart!
Patrick Quinn is the director of Planned Giving at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago.