Sunday, February 26, 2017

Finding Common Ground

In the Gospel reading for the Sunday of Forgiveness, the day before the beginning of Great and Holy Lent, the Church places a strong emphasis on the need for forgiveness as a prerequisite for our entrance into heaven. “But if you do no forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6.15) For us to best understand the concept of forgiveness, we must take a moment and study the words used in the Holy Scriptures.

In the original Greek text of the Gospel, the word which gets translated as forgive is “αφήσει”which literally means to “let go of something” as in “let go of the ball”. When you let something go, you leave it behind and walk away. With that understanding, to genuinely forgive someone, we must let go of their actions and leave it behind us. The Lord says, if we are able to do this for those who have sinned against us, then, and only then, He will do the same for us.

Consider the modern Greek word used in this passage as forgiveness, “συγχωρήσει” which has a different understanding than “αφήσει” since its literal understand is to “find common ground or put yourself in the same place” with someone. In the modern Greek sense the passage sounds like this. “But if you do not find common ground with men for their trespasses, neither will your Father find common ground with you for your trespasses.” In this sense the Lord says, if we are able to find common ground or put ourselves in the same place as others who might sin against us, then, and only then, will He do the same for us who have sinned against Him.

Orthodox Christianity is about understand that God joins us to Himself. In our baptism and chrismation, we are forever joined to God and become one with Him. God has found common ground with us, and has placed Himself in the same place as us, which we call “living in communion with God.” Our salvation is found only in our desire to live in communion with God. In the context then of this Gospel lesson, unless we are willing to live in communion with each other, we cannot live in communion with God.

Forgiveness then is not a legal justification of actions, but a willingness to join together. This requires love. God has already joined each person to Himself when He was born, and we join ourselves to Him in our baptism and chrismation. If I am joined to God, and my enemy is joined to God, then we are joined to each other. My condemnation, in the context of this Gospel lesson, is my refusal to be there joined alongside my fellow human being in the common ground of heaven with our Lord.

Thankfully we have Great Lent as a gift from God and His Church to help us find common ground with each other in heaven, but we must first learn to find common ground here on earth. Let’s start by entering the Church together during the period of Great Lent. Let’s pray together, fast together, help others together, worship together, and eventually learn to love together. Then, as God has promised, He will do the same for us.

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