N.T. Wright, Jesus' Kingdom on Earth, and Radical Forgiveness (Lenten Scriptural Commentary #21)
by Erik Ritland
Fully Alive’s Lenten Scriptural Commentary helps Christians get more out of Lent by taking God’s word seriously.
Mostly avoiding personal stories and anecdotes, our commentary dives deeply into the scripture readings for each day and applies them to the broader context of Lent. We use the daily Mass readings from the Catholic lectionary.
If possible, read each passage slowly, taking in each word. If you find that you’ve hurried through a reading, read it over a few more times. Let the words reverberate in your heart. After you’ve let it sink in, read our Lenten Scriptural Commentary.
Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
Crying from the depths, the prophet Daniel pleads with God to forgive His people. Jesus illustrates the place of forgiveness in the Kingdom He is ushering in.
Readings: Dn 3:25, 34-43/Mt 18:21-35
Click here to read the complete text from the USCCB website
For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation,
brought low everywhere in the world this day
because of our sins.
With contrite heart and humble spirit
let us be received;
As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bullocks,
or thousands of fat lambs,
So let our sacrifice be in your presence today
as we follow you unreservedly;
for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame.
And now we follow you with our whole heart,
we fear you and we pray to you.
Do not let us be put to shame,
but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy.
(cf. Dn 3:25, 34-43)
Although written about a certain point in history – the Israelites’ Babylonian Exile, in which they were despoiled and run out of their land – the words of the prophet Daniel are universal. Each of us has been “reduced...brought low...because of our sins.”
All it takes is a small amount of contemplation for us to realize the bad things that we’ve done how those things have had negative consequences, both for us and for others.
The good news? We have a God that “deals with us” in “kindness and great mercy.” Those who are missing this, who bottle this up inside, cannot allow themselves to be fully themselves. We can’t free ourselves, and neither can anybody else. We need God to do this.
Fortunately for us, it’s His greatest desire.
Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
"Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
(cf Mt 18: 21-35)
N.T. Wright may be the most important Christian theologian of the 20th century. His work practically single-handedly took down the Jesus Seminar, a collection of scholars who seriously challenged practically every major tenet of Christianity (and got a lot of television coverage doing so). Wright’s work countering them is conclusive, and you don’t really hear from them anymore.
One of Wright’s main points is that Christianity has been missing something for a long time: an emphasis on the Kingdom that Jesus ushered in for us in the here and now. Not simply a Kingdom in the future, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection laid down His Kingdom now. Jesus’ teachings, especially in the parables, teach us how we are to live in the Kingdom He has ushered in.
Forgiveness is a fundamental tenet of this kingdom. Resentment and negativity towards those who have wronged us is a most human thing. But it’s destructive. It is difficult to internalize the radical forgiveness Jesus calls for. It takes a lifetime of constantly trying to do better, of trying to align yourself to Christ, to do it.
The more you internalize the idea, the easier it becomes. First you start finding it easier to forgive small things, then bigger things. Forgiveness can become a way of life. As Jesus illustrates in the parable, God forgives us to an immense degree, and we are called to imitate Him. It wouldn’t make any sense if we didn’t.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that everything is okay. Sometimes people do damage that is so physically, mentally, or psychologically damaging that forgiveness feel impossible.
Those are the exceptions that prove the rule; for the most part, we harbor resentment for trivial things.
But for those big things, God is always there to help us, and He only asks us to do the best we can. The least God asks of us is to not wish harm on those people and to pray for them. Even if we can’t do that – and for some serious offences, it can be difficult – God will still help us on our path towards forgiveness if we keep our hearts open to it.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician. The founder of Fully Alive Christian Media, he also created The Minnesota Sport Ramble and is a writer and copy editor for Music in Minnesota. He was Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blogs Curious North and Hometown Hustle. Reach him via email.
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Erik Ritland received his MA in Theology in 2017. He's the founder and content manager of Fully Alive Christian Media and Rambling On, copy editor and writer for Music in Minnesota, and an acclaimed songwriter.