Well another Mardi Gras season has passed. Much was likely written – and more thought – by secular and religious writers alike about the celebration and excess. Likewise, Ash Wednesday was observed marking a time of prayer and fasting.
My faith roots run deep in the Baptist tradition, so my early recollections of this season are filled with misinformation and judgment that all involved had way too much fun. In fact, most adults in my early life felt Ash Wednesday should be extended well beyond a one day observance to adequately reflect the required evidence of repentance. Because I always felt some sense of guilt for wanting to experience Mardi Gras – and even Ash Wednesday – I guess it is natural I spend so much energy during this (pre)Easter time reflecting on forgiveness.
About this time of the year, I often think of a story – seemingly unrelated, but well could have been me – that goes something like this…, “Pastor, my 16-year-old son is driving me crazy. I do not know if I can handle the stress until he grows up. Do you think Jesus understands how hard it is to have a son like mine? Will He forgive him?” The minister assured the parent Jesus understood and would forgive the son. Then as the parent moved out of earshot, the pastor turns to a by-stander and says, “I wanted to tell that parent Jesus also understands what it is like for a healthy, 16-year-old to have a parent like that and would likewise forgive him/her.”
I am often reminded and freely admit I am no theological, but I believe this story addresses something often overlooked in “Christian” circles, especially during this time of the year.
See, I believe one thing that got Jesus in so much hot water with all those religious experts wasn’t so much that He forgave THEM of THEIR sins, it was that He forgave sins others committed against THEM. It is wonderful thing for me to have Jesus forgive my sins. We preach something like this all the time. “Come ye, all who are weary.” “Ask and ye shall receive.” “Come, Jesus’ arms welcome anyone.”
On some level, I fool myself into believing I have some control over and may even deserve the forgiveness and Grace I receive…seeing as I am such a good guy and all. Right, just ask my wife – not!
It is almost as if I can turn this forgiveness thing on and off, as I need it. However, for Jesus to forgive someone else’s wrongs against ME without any input from ME….and I do not even have to ask Jesus about it – that is entirely something else. After all, he or she does not deserve my forgiveness.
As Easter approaches, maybe we should remember how we define and limit God’s forgiveness. I am very comfortable with Jesus dying for all my wrongs. Not so sure though about Him dying for some of the people so different from me. Or, what about all those people who did not or do not come to Him like I did? After all, my crowd has certain things about faith nailed down pretty good – at least we think we do. Or what about all those people who have wronged me. Even worse, what about those people who have committed terrible sins? Surely, we aren’t supposed to embrace the forgiveness THEY can “so freely” receive. This is about ME.
There are a few verses that sting extra painful this time of year – Luke 5:24…and Matthew 6:14…or what about …Romans 12:14…and worst of all….James 4:12.
Maybe we’d be better off if we accept God as the only One capable of accurately judging everyone. After all, I think He earned that role in the greatest gift and sacrifice of all. I think I remember reading something about Jesus being the way, truth, and life…and no one coming to the Father except through Him. I think I’ll remember God’s great forgiveness and get back to my fasting, prayer, and lies I told about things I’d give up during Lent.
It’s really quite freeing to stop personally defining exactly how Jesus is going to judge everyone and let Him work that out. So freeing, next year I think I’ll find a way to ”wander on down to a parade” and learn from some who so wonderfully celebrate this time of year. After all, they probably know more than I do about the great forgiveness that only comes from an honest approach to the Father.
God probably forgave them while I was stuck in my judgment and pride for avoiding anyone who had any fun associated with this time of year…