Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Forgiving Body of Christ

(23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, A)

At first glance the gospel passage we hear today might seem like a simple procedure for dealing with trouble in the Christian community. Jesus advises us to take a step-by-step approach in dealing with someone who is trapped in a sin that is hurting the unity or the holiness of the Body of Christ.

Let’s notice, though, Jesus’ astonishing statement at the end of gospel. Do you remember a couple of weeks ago when we heard St. Peter’s great confession of faith, and how Jesus gave him the “keys to the kingdom of heaven,” so that whatever he bound on earth would be bound on earth and whatever he loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven? Well in today’s gospel we hear Jesus giving that same authority to all of his disciples. Consider what this means: the forgiveness of God is in our hands! When we forgive someone, we forgive them not just with our forgiveness but with the forgiveness of God himself. “Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Why should this be, that God has handed over to us the power to dispense his own forgiveness to each other? It is because we are the Body of Christ. As St. Paul writes in the letter to the Philippians, God “emptied himself” into the human life of Jesus Christ, so that in Christ we see the full revelation of God on our human terms. And where is this revelation of God now, for us? It is right here. Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross for us, is risen into the new life of the Living Bread and Precious Blood of the Eucharist we celebrate each Sunday. We who receive this Holy Communion with the humanity of Christ, become what we receive. We become the Body of Christ, risen from the dead.

So if we are the Body of Christ, what does the Body of Christ do? First of all it preaches the Kingdom of God, and so this is our primary vocation as Christians. Second, the Body of Christ allows itself to be broken for the salvation of the world. And so we who are Christians allow the suffering of the world around us to break our hearts, that we might learn compassion for all. Finally, as we hear in the gospel today, as the Body of Christ, the forgiveness of God is on our hands. “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

We are all well acquainted with our sins. As the old saying goes, a clean conscience is a sign of a bad memory. We all know what it’s like to long for the healing forgiveness of God. Indeed the whole world longs for this forgiveness, for the forgiving of one another from the heart is the only thing that will stop this world’s endless cycles of violence. So if we have ever longed for God’s forgiveness, let us fulfill the injunction to love our neighbor as ourselves, and give God’s forgiveness to each other. It is ours to give, as the living Body of Christ, the revelation of God in the world. To forgive is to heal, to stop the cycles of violence and sin that hurt everyone. To forgive is to love perfectly. To stop the reproduction of violence and sin is to take up the Cross and fulfill our vocation as Christ’s risen Body. It is the love that is the fullest expression of the Mystery we call “God.”

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