St Isaac the Syrian, the 7th century Bishop of Nineveh and monk wrote: ‘as a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God’ and ‘just as a strongly-flowing fountain is not blocked up by a handful of earth, so the compassion of the Creator is not overcome by the wickedness of his creatures.’ Now, it is salutary to be reminded on a regular basis of the infinite nature of God’s love and mercy. I suspect that if the truth be told, many of us, and I count myself among this number, struggle with this fact. We do so because we struggle to believe that we can be forgiven: our awareness of our frail and sinful nature means that we cannot see how God can love such a thing. Yet, God’s love and forgiveness is not something which we can earn. Herein lies the fault of Pelagius (among others): that humanity can somehow earn its way into heaven. It doesn’t work like that; what God offers us in Christ is something far more radical, far stranger: love and forgiveness to heal our wounds, to restore us, to do that which we cannot.
In answer to Simon Peter’s question at the start of this morning’s Gospel, Jesus offers a vision of a community of love and forgiveness. The number 77 echoes the establishment of the Jubilee in Leviticus: what is promised in the law becomes real in the person and teaching of Jesus, the Messiah, who gives true liberty to the people of God, the new Israel. It anticipates and gives a concrete example of Our Lord’s summary of the Law: cf. Mt 22:40 ‘on these two hang all the law & the prophets’. In finding the lost sheep and bringing them back, the community is restored.
So we have a vision of God’s love and forgiveness and how this can heal the wounds of our human nature. In the parable which Jesus tells in the Gospel this morning we both how God forgives and loves us and how we as Christians, people loved and forgiven by God are to act towards each other: by showing to others what God shows us. It is why, when Jesus teaches us how to pray, we are told to ask ‘forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’. We are, as Christians, to be a community which displays, and which embodies what God is and does for us.
We are not to hold a grudge; we are instead to live out in our lives what God in Christ does for us. The Cross thus becomes a demonstration of God’s love and healing for the world. We meet today to be fed by word and sacrament; to feed on God’s love, to allow God’s love to transform and transfigure our human nature, and by living it out in our lives, to offer the world something radically different: a vision of humanity both loved and loving, forgiven and forgiving.
It is both difficult and challenging, and it makes great demands on us. We can only live as God intends us to by embarking upon this costly and counter-cultural way of life, in a relationship with God and each other. It is truly difficult and yet deceptively easy, we have to do it, and we have to do it together, to become a community of love, to offer the world an alternative to the ways of selfishness and anger.
We are called to do nothing less than to change the world, by whom and what we are, by loving and forgiving, as we are loved and forgiven. So let us live out this love and forgiveness in our lives, continuing the transformation of ourselves and of the world, through love lived out in our lives, so that we and all creation may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.