Old Testament: Hosea (1:2-10)
When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.” She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.” When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.” Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”
The Response: Psalm 85
1 You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, *
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.
2 You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *
and blotted out all their sins.
3 You have withdrawn all your fury *
and turned yourself from your wrathful indignation.
4 Restore us then, O God our Savior; *
let your anger depart from us.
5 Will you be displeased with us for ever? *
will you prolong your anger from age to age?
6 Will you not give us life again, *
that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your mercy, O Lord, *
and grant us your salvation.
8 I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.
The Epistle: Colossians (2:6-15)
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
The Gospel: Luke (11:1-13)
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
It is obvious to all of us that our world today is a divided world; but then, it seems that it has always been. And it is obvious to anyone that our nation today is divided as well, although a review of our history quickly reveals that things have been much worse. And, all too often, our communities and maybe even our families and groups of other people who are nearest to us find themselves divided as well.
But, at least on the surface, there is one thing that appears to unite us all. Whenever a tragedy occurs, such as the terrible recent shootings by and of police officers, everyone involved and even people who are not directly involved supposedly want the same thing: justice. All the parties involve demand that justice be done. The problem is that “justice,” as it is called for in these situations, often has little to do with what is just, or right. Its primary meaning seems to be “revenge.” “Don’t waste time investigating and considering the often complex set of actions and misperceptions that led to this tragedy. Those other people have to be punished for what they did to me or to someone else with whom I happen to identify.” Some individuals even go so far as to taking matters into their own hands and killing innocent people, some of whom are doing their best to protect the lives and rights of others. These acts of revenge are the very antithesis of true justice.
All of today’s scripture readings have to do with wrongs done to others and with God’s response to those wrongs. And they suggest our possible response as well. Ultimately, they have to do with God’s justice.
In our first reading, Hosea draws on his own, personal pain, brought on by a repeatedly unfaithful wife, to recognize that God is in the same situation as the prophet in God’s relationship with Israel. God’s first reaction is to punish Israel severely. That punishment is symbolized by the names that Hosea gives to his three children: declaring that God will leave them without a king, without compassion, and, most devastating of all, without God. But then God’s mercy and love, which persists and transcends everything that Israel has done, rises to the fore, and God forgives the rebellious people and prepares them for a new beginning.
Our psalm begins with the recognition that the people have sinned against God in some serious way. But it recalls the memory of God’s forgiveness for them and God’s restoration of them in the past. And it calls on God to forgive once more, not denying Israel’s guilt, but relying on God’s compassion and love that have the power to heal the broken relationship.
The author of Colossians recalls the time when those in his audience were captives of their pagan way of life until God brought them forgiveness “erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.”
And in the gospel reading, Jesus teaches his followers to forgive the debts that others owe them and then to ask God for forgiveness for their own sins. He then goes on, in the rest of the passage, to assure them of God’s forgiveness which transcends all and to call upon them to follow God’s example in forgiving.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetfulness. It doesn’t mean pretending that nothing ever happened. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu and those who worked with him on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission insisted, the past must be remembered and the truth must be told. But the past cannot be allowed to hold captive and strangle the life out of the future.
And the past cannot be allowed to hold captive and strangle the life out of the one who has been hurt either. Forgiveness sets free not only the offender, but the offended as well. As American theologian Lewis Smedes observed: “The only way to heal the pain that will not heal itself is to forgive the person who hurt you. Forgiving stops the reruns of pain. Forgiving heals your memory as you change your memory’s vision. When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.” (as quote in Context, December 2010).
Ultimately, forgiveness is the only way to heal the separations that divide people from one another. In forgiving others as God has forgiven us, we open up the possibility for a new future, for a different future, for a future characterized, not by a repeating cycle of hurt and revenge, but by a new, though initially uneasy, relationship. Like those who worked to bring about reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa, and like those who are working today to bring about reconciliation in places like Israel and the West Bank, we learn to see the situation through the eyes of the other, from his or her experience, as well as through our own. And it is only when we come to see in that new way, that true justice can emerge.
Samuel Wells, former professor and Dean at Duke University Divinity School and now Vicar of the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, has insisted (“Forgiving Ahab,” The Christian Century, April 17, 2013): “Forgiveness shouldn’t be the last thing Christians have to say in the face of injustice. It should be the first thing.
“Forgiveness says, ‘You can hurt me, but you can’t take away my allegiance to Christ. You can be cruel to me, but you can’t make me become like you. You can crush me, but you can’t put yourself outside the mercy of God.’ …Forgiveness is the justice of God.”