The Word of God Tells Us That Forgiveness is for Those Who Forgive (Lenten Scriptural Commentary #7)
by John Morton
"Just as the father forgave the prodigal son, not asking for anything in return, not seeking re-payment, or even an apology, so we also must truly forgive others in the same fashion. Forgiveness is about compassion, and not about seeking justice."
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 First Week of Lent
The Old Testament points to Christ, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the words of the prophet Isaiah. In today’s Gospel reading, we are taught how to pray by the Word of God that Isaiah prophesied: Christ.
Readings: Is 55:11/Mt 6:7,14-15
Click here to read the complete text from the USCCB website
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me empty,
but shall do what pleases me,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
(cf. Is 55:11)
God’s Word, also understood as Christ (see John 1:1-18), is the font of everything: wisdom, joy, sustenance, existence. And his Word is always efficacious. Why? Because The Word IS God.
Today’s OT reading is pretty straightforward. Just as the rains and the snow make the earth fertile and full of wonder and splendor, so too does the truth from God do the same to hearts of men. This is an analogy seen numerous times in scripture. And just as the rain and snow do not return to the clouds before accomplishing their effects, God’s Word shall accomplish its effects.
In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.
(cf. Mt 6:7,14-15)
There is a lot packed into today’s Gospel reading, and so I’ll discuss it in two parts.
During Lent we are asked to focus on three tasks: almsgiving, fasting, and prayer. So it is very appropriate that in today’s reading we are given the blueprint for all prayer. I want to draw special attention, as the Gospel does, to that part of our prayer where we ask forgiveness. What we notice is that this forgiveness is contingent, contingent on us forgiving others.
Lent is a time when we hear again and again about the mercy of God, and are presented with his infinite love. The story of the prodigal son, of his Father’s joy and forgiveness upon his return, is an allegory for God’s relationship to us. Just as the father forgave the prodigal son, not asking for anything in return, not seeking re-payment, or even an apology, so we also must truly forgive others in the same fashion. Forgiveness is about compassion, and not about seeking justice.
Now I briefly want to discuss Mt 6:7 ("In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words"), as this can cause some confusion. For example, some might ask: isn’t The Rosary an example of what Christ is condemning?
It is not. Pagans believed it was the words, the utterances, how those words were said, that had power. The prayers had to be said correctly in order to be effective. The pagan sought to control some outcome through their prayers. Often, the more complicated or lengthy the prayer, the more powerful they thought it was.
But to Christians, we do not seek to change God’s mind in our prayers, or to control the outcome. We seek his mercy, and to we seek to understand his will. Simple prayers like “come, Holy Spirit” or “help me Jesus” are just as effective as saying the whole Rosary. It is not the pronunciation or the language used that makes them effective, but our faith in God, our trust in him.
Remember, Christ gave us a prayer to say in today’s reading, and this prayer is repeated again and again in nearly all Christian liturgies, whether weekly or daily. And recall that Christ himself participated in the temple liturgy, he didn’t condemn it.
Only when we look past these things, when we understand that these external rites point to an eternal truth, that we can truly appreciate them.
John Morton is a writer, historian, and theologian from Minnesota. He founded Fully Alive with Erik Ritland in 2017. In addition to writing articles, he is also the podcast co-host and social media content strategist.
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.