Thursday, March 6, 2008

On being "the forgiven"

In his deeply moving address before Pope John Paul II in 1998, Msgr. Luigi Giussani asserted that "Existence expresses itself, as ultimate ideal, in begging. The real protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man's heart, and man's heart that begs for Christ". In my daily pondering of St. Matthew’s Gospel, which is being facilitated by Stanley Hauerwas, who spoke at last year at CL's main event, The Meeting, which is held in Rimini, Italy, I was struck by an observation on chapter six, wherein Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. Before proceeding to the relevant and revelatory (at least for me) observation, I think what Hauerwas writes concerning Jesus' admonition, given at the end of this chapter, not to worry is important: "The temptation . . . is to assume that Jesus's admonition not to worry is some general human truth that is true whether Jesus says it or not. But, as we have seen, the content of the sermon cannot be abstracted from the one who delivers the sermon" (Matthew 82).

Earlier in the chapter Hauerwas asks, Do we really "want to pray that our debts be forgiven as we have forgiven our debtors"? The truth of matter, he asserts, is that "we find it easier to forgive than to be forgiven". Why is this true? It is true because we spend a lot of our lives "trying to avoid acknowledging we owe anyone anything. Yet to be a follower of Jesus, to learn to pray [the Our Father], means that we must first learn that we are the forgiven. To learn to be forgiven is no easy lesson, desiring as we do to be our own master - if not creator. But to be a disciple of Jesus demands that we recognize that our life is a gift that requires, if we are to live in a manner appropriate to our being a creature, our willingness to accept forgiveness with joy" (Matthew 79). Besides, does not being the benevolent bestower of forgiveness smack of the same kind of arrogance that is shown in our desire to be our own master, our own creator, an arrogance that moves beyond ourselves and extends to others? Our very ability to truly forgive is only made possible because "while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5,8).

I think that this passage really gets at the heart of the matter. Any understanding of being human that rejects our created-ness, our contingency, our bodily nature, our dependence on God, or our broken-ness, is a fantasy. Most pernicious of all are those theologies that teach us we only get from God what we earn, like the allowance we used to receive for cleaning our room, mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, and shoveling the driveway. Being recreated by being graciously forgiven is the beginning of life because it offers unfailing hope. It is in Christ Jesus, through our baptism, that the nature of our relationship with God changes from one of creature, albeit beloved creature who is called, to one of daughter or son of "our Father", one who is chosen.

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