The incomprehensibility of forgiveness

Jesus Annointed by a sinful woman, by Jean van Orley in Sint-Salvator

“Two people were in debt to a certain creditor;
one owed five hundred day’s wages and the other owed fifty.
Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both.
Which of them will love him more?”
Simon said in reply,
“The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”
He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
 

The question Jesus asks is “who will love him more?” but we might also ask “why is he forgiving?”

Why is that the part we take for granted? Jesus constantly presents us with parables in which the protagonist goes against all human nature: welcoming back a profligate son, paying a full days wages to workers who only worked a few hours, giving talents to servants, forgiving their debtors.

Has overexposure caused us to ignore the marvelous incomprehensibility of the mercy of God? 

Upon first reading this weekend’s lectionary readings, I was first drawn to the human actors: What causes David to repent of his transgressions? Why is the psalmist pleading for forgiveness? Why does Paul write off the law? Why is the sinful woman so physically affectionate? What does it mean to say her faith has saved her? And isn’t she the righteous one, rather than the Pharisee?

These are rich, worthy questions, but they distracted me from the main question: Why does God forgive?

If I were to be so bold as to answer, I would suggest it is because God loved us in to being and wants to maintain a relationship of mutual love with us.

We are all on journeys. Discipleship is a path, not a fixed point. We make mistakes, but ultimately God wants to welcome us back to the path.

The inquisitive child in me wants to keep on with the “why”s. Why does God love us? Why does God welcome us back? I rub my eyes and pull my hair as I agonize looking for answers.

Once in a while the constant search for sensible answers to every question exhausts me so that I relax into the beauty of truth, accepting that God forgives, despite my confusion and God’s mystery.

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3 Responses to The incomprehensibility of forgiveness

  1. Mark Allman says:

    To not forgive affects you so much and can harm our souls if we do not. Forgiveness allows us to reestablish relationships we value; allows us to give the offender a gift of forgiveness; allows us to let bitterness escape from our soul. It also lets us heal. Without forgiveness our soul will not heal from the hurt.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Your last paragraph reminded me of a quote (by Chesterton, I think) I recently saw “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” It is in those moments where we just sink into God’s loving arms and relax into His Truth and beauty that it makes the most sense. When we let our heart and souls lead us and acknowledge that the mystery is OK.

    As a very left-brained, analytical person, to experience God in this way usually catches me off guard, but never fails to be way deeper than any “head” experience of Him I try.

  3. waywardson23 says:

    In the Western tradition, the sinful woman is Mary Magdeline. (In the Eastern tradition, they are different women.)

    There are a lot of modern articles “defending” the “reputation” of Mary Magdeline, saying that she wasn’t this sinful woman. But I think the story is far better if she was. If a “sinful woman” can become one of the greatest saints, then there is hope for all of us.

    It is Simon whose vision is limited by the woman’s flaws. He sees her as a sinner first and not a person. “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” He misses the point.

    Yes, Jesus is a prophet and He knows exactly who and what sort of woman is touching Him. But He looks beyond her sin and sees her faith.

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