In my anthropology courses I often stress the importance of metaphors in culture. Once I wanted to be sure the class and I were on the same wave length so I asked the students what a metaphor was. One student said – Father, I don’t know what one is but I know what one is like!
The first reading compares God’s word to the rain and snow that waters the earth and makes it fruitful. I have seen deserts in the Middle East and in California and Nevada and realize how severe the landscape indeed is. However, I’m most familiar with South Dakota where I have done most of my research and continue to visit periodically. If you go to Slim Buttes on the Pine Ridge reservation and visit a certain overlook you will see a most remarkable site—the White River winding its way through a long valley below. On both sides you will see huge beautiful cottonwood trees and the prairie is verdant on either bank. Even when the rest of the country is parched in the summer heat the band of green remains.
Forgiveness is like that river out on the Pine Ridge reservation. It has the power to give life and transform it. In the Gospel Jesus reminds us that we are the river -- it is OUR forgiveness that can produce life. Note that Jesus does not tell us to forgive those who forgive us first – we are the ones to initiate forgiveness – we are the ones, through words and deeds, to transform the world around us like a stream does the desert.
In Lent we often imagine ourselves just like the parched desert. So, too, we are each aware of our own need for forgiveness just as the earth needs water to bring forth life. But we can often forget that we are the very streams that can turn the prairie and desert green and sustain immense shade giving trees. Jesus makes it clear – to receive forgiveness we are to forgive, remembering always that God is a forgiving God, that God’s word is like the snow and rain and dew and rivers – sustaining life, and that it is Jesus who brought us forgiveness and bids us now to do likewise. Lent can be like a desert—but with the rivers of forgiveness that well up in each of us through grace, we each can be part of the transformation of death to life that we will celebrate in Easter.
Forgiveness is difficult and some might even say in some cases impossible. But we are asked the impossible, with God’s grace. It is the act of forgiveness that can transform the seemingly dead desert and parched prairie into vibrant life. Those prairies and deserts are all around us but they are also in us too. God has given us an immense power, the power of forgiveness. Lent is the time to make alive again so as to enter Easter fully.
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