Daily Reflection
October 5th, 2005

Daniel Patrick O'Reilly

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Jonah 4:1-11
Psalm 86:3-4, 5-6, 9-10
Luke 11:1-4

I love today’s scripture. I love the Book of Jonah. I think I love it because it is short, I identify with Jonah and there are so many lessons that can be drawn from Jonah. In today’s readings, the lesson has to do with forgiveness. In the Book of Jonah, God has told the people of Nineveh, repent or else. The Ninevites choose to repent and God spares them. And Jonah is furious. Jonah wants God to destroy Nineveh. Jonah is so angry that he asks God to take his life. The Lord, in his kindness, asks Jonah, "Do you have reason to be angry?" And then Jonah camps out east of Nineveh, like a vulture, hoping God will yet destroy the city. It’s hot. And God provides a plant for shade for Jonah. When the plant dies, Jonah, again, is furious and asks God to kill him. God uses Jonah’s concern over the plant as a lesson to him about the importance of the people of Nineveh to God.

The psalmist proclaims: Lord, you are merciful and gracious. For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving. And in Luke, Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray. Ask the Lord for forgiveness of our sins just as we forgive those who sin against us. Christ understands the importance of forgiveness in our relationship with God and in how we relate to each other.

My wife and I pack quite differently. When we go on a trip, I can fit what I will need for a week into my gym bag. My wife, on the other hand, will pack half of our worldly belongings into the van for an overnight. We often joke about our packing habits and baggage. However, when it comes to forgiveness, I am the one with the heavy baggage wishing I were more like my wife. My wife is quick to forgive and her forgiveness is sincere. I, on the other hand, have a difficult time with forgiveness. It can be a long and drawn out process for me.

Many years ago, an uncle, long dead now, stole my grandmother’s life savings. My grandmother, a widow, had to sell her house. I could not believe that a son would steal from his own mother. I was so angry I could not say my uncle’s name without spitting. I did not speak to him again. When my uncle died, I decided I needed to forgive him. Not that I thought he deserved it, but, after all, at that point, he sure didn’t care about my anger and all my bitterness sure wasn’t doing me any good. So, I forgave him, knocked the dust off my feet and moved on. Or so I thought. Years later, at a family gathering, we were reminiscing about relatives who had died. The name of my uncle came up. Soon I realized that everyone at the table had grown quiet and they were staring at me. And I was raging about how I hated my uncle. It was an embarrassing and eye opening moment for me. I realized that simply saying, I forgive you, is not enough. It has to come from the heart. You have to work at it. It can take some time. And Jesus says that it is very important.

We are so lucky to be Christians. Imagine what it would be like to worship a god who did not forgive. A god who expected perfection. A god who punished our every mistake. Maybe a god who didn’t even like us. Instead we worship a loving God whose forgiveness is beyond our understanding. The idea that Jesus died as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of my sins is sometimes hard to take in. God makes it quite clear, in scripture and with Christ as our model, that forgiveness is essential. My prayer today is for anyone who has a hard time with forgiveness.

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