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The Twenty Second Sunday after Trinity

Fr. David Curry

Christ Church, Windsor Nova Scotia, November 16, 2003


Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?

till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee,

until seven times; but until seventy times seven.


Love gives without expectation of return because love is its own reward.  The Gospels teach us to love for love’s sake.  Love is its own reason.  What does this mean?


It means that love cannot be a matter of calculation - giving simply with the expectation of receiving in return.  For then we limit love.  We put limits and restrictions on our love and the love of others.  It is a poor and impoverished kind of love which constrains and restricts the boundless love, the unlimited love, the love-without-counting-the-cost kind of love shown to us in Jesus Christ. 


Does this mean that love is crazy, irrational, arbitrary and without reason?  No.  Love is its own reason and that reason is known and named.  “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as he gave us commandment”, the commandment to love.  The recurring refrain of the Trinity season, after all, is a constant reminder and a repeated challenge for us to act out of the love that has been shown to us.  “God is love and he that abideth in love abideth in God and God in him”.  It is, we may say, a strong statement which at once convicts and convinces.  We are only too well aware of the distance between where we should want to be and where we know that we are in the confusions and the bitternesses of our hearts and minds. 


In the quiet twilight of nature’s year, we have been given a glimpse of the homeland of the spirit.  November is the grey month of our remembering.  There is our remembering the Kingdom of heaven in the communion of saints, on the one hand, and there is our remembering the common grave of our own deaths, on the other hand.  And as well, there is the remembering of sacrifices rendered and given in the name of spiritual and political freedoms and privileges.  And all of that remembering ultimately belongs to the vision of our end in glory.  The remembering at the long end of the Trinity season is really the remembrance of grace; “thy sweet love remembered, that then I scorn to change my state with kings”


But how is it that we have access, to use the jargon of our day, to that homeland of the spirit? How is it that we participate in it now?  Through grace.  The year runs out in the lessons of grace, the grace of forgiveness.  It is the principle of our abiding in the love of God.  It is the strong lesson of this day. 


Christ’s love draws us into the company of the Trinity.  The love that is without calculation is the infinite love of God.  In this Gospel, Jesus uses a finite quantity - seventy times seven - to indicate an infinite quality that is beyond counting.  The quality of love is something infinite.  It is something of God in us.  The love that is of God is always with God and with God all things are beyond mere calculation. 


We live in a world where everything, it seems, is numbered.  It is a world of numerical determinancy.  The technological and the economic forces which circumscribe our lives are all driven by numbers - by a numerical logic, as it were.  Everything, it seems, can be numbered; but numbers cannot capture the reality of anything.  There is something more.  We sense that in a world where everything and everyone is reduced to a number something is lost.  Somehow the description of ourselves as numbers is known to be dehumanizing, as making us less, not more, than what we are.  A numerical logic, after all, cannot capture the truth of who we are or what we are about. 


Yet through the finite quantity of a numerical equation, Jesus shows us the infinite quality of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is the quality of divine mercy bestowed upon us so as to be active in us.   It is not something static but a dynamic quality that is to be alive in us - our forgiving one another even as we have been forgiven, our acting out of the love that has been shown to us.  That is the point of this parable, the parable of the “Unforgiving Servant” who fails to act out of the love which has been given to him and so imprisons himself, we might say. 


Forgiveness is the quality of divine love in us.  It is beyond calculation; it is more than what we can do on our own.  It speaks to the truth of ourselves in the truth of God, an infinite content revealed through the finite context of the humanity of Jesus Christ. 


In the Epistle which complements this Gospel, Paul writes from his imprisonment in Rome to the church in Philippi.  The love of Christ has no prison walls.  It cannot be contained.  “I have you”, he says, “in my heart, inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the Gospel, ye are all partakers of my grace”.  What is that grace except the grace of Christ crucified and risen from the dead, the grace which neither grave nor prison can contain?  It is beyond limit, beyond human calculation.  In the company of the Trinity, we are all together whether we are in prison or in Philippi, whether we are in the agony of death or in the ecstasy of salvation.  You see, we are defined neither by numbers nor by the prison walls of our daily griefs and pains, the prison walls of our sins and follies.  We are defined by grace. 


There is nothing that we need to remember more than this, especially in these difficult and trying times when our institutions are in disarray, when we confront the betrayal of the spiritual principles which belong to our life together in the body of Christ through arrogance and presumption.  The overreach of the state in attempting to redefine the family pales in comparison to the arrogance of those in the church who have broken the unity of the Anglican Communion through a wilful forgetting of the principles of moral order and truth.  More profoundly, it seems to me, is the forgetting of forgiveness as the foundational principle of our moral lives, for we are all sinners whose lives, sexually and otherwise, can bear no scrutiny.  But it is quite another thing to try to change the God-given categories of our humanity in order to celebrate ourselves in the vanity of “the devices and desires of our own hearts” and in the follies of our own self-definitions. 


No.  The grace of forgiveness allows us to face the fact of our confusions and our self-will and confront the reality of the sinfulness of “our thoughts, words and deeds”, and not be destroyed by what we see of ourselves.  The grace of forgiveness recalls us to God, to his love and order without which our lives are lies. 


The forgiveness of sins goes beyond the limits of hurts given and received, not by ignoring them, but by going through them to something more.  It is given to be received and acted upon.  We are bidden to receive the grace of forgiveness and to show that we have received it by our acting upon it.  The dynamic quality of the grace of the forgiveness of sins in us is wonderfully captured by Portia’s speech in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice 

The quality of mercy is not strain’d;

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice Bless’d;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes... 

By forgiving one another and being forgiven by one another, we are twice blessed by the quality of divine mercy which comes down from heaven.  It is “not strain’d”, meaning two things, first, that it is not constrained by our considerations, and, secondly, that it is not contained by our presumptions.  It is beyond calculation, and cannot be held back.  The grace of Christ for us is given to be lived in us.  We stand upon the place beneath blessed by the quality of mercy bestowed upon us in the grace of Christ.  All our giving and all our taking make us partakers of his grace, if only we will act upon it.  Not to do so is to deny God’s forgiveness of us, a forgiveness which knows no limit, except the limit we put upon it.  Such is our folly, the folly which Jesus challenges and overcomes. 


Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?

till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee,

until seven times; but until seventy times seven.