I love words! They have such power to communicate ideas and mysteries and entire worlds that are created at their mere mention. I love the strange twists that word association games take when played with certain people (like me). Here’s one of my favorite games that ends with a word. There are 10 steps, so bear with me.
1) pick a number from 1-9
2) subtract 5
3) multiply by 3
4) square the number (multiply the number by itself)
5) add the digits until you get only one digit (i.e. 64 = 6+4 = 10 = 1+0 =1)
6) if the number is less than 5, add five. Otherwise subtract 4.
7) multiply by 2
8) subtract 6
9) map the digit to a letter in the alphabet 1=A, 2=B, 3=C, etc..
10) pick the name of a country that begins with that letter
Now the vast majority of people who can complete this exercise will think of Denmark, and so the person asking the questions can confidently say at the end of this word game: “Your country is Denmark, isn’t it?” And everyone is astounded that you correctly guessed the person’s country was Denmark.
Unless you happen to have tried this game with a certain 4 year old named Renee, a 4 year old who happened to have a map of the world on her placemat at the dining room table, and a strange father who liked to point out not just Canada, Russia, and China but also Burkina Faso and Liechtenstein.
In that case, the obvious answer to this word association game is none other than “Djibouti!”
All of that to say, here’s the word we’ll be working with today: “Blessing.”
Here’s an easier word game: what do you immediately (or with brief reflection) think of when you hear the word “blessing”? It might be money for some, although I wonder if more frequently it might not be the specific things money can buy. Maybe it’s health or a sense of well-being or a long life. For some of you, it’s likely to be that particular something you’ve long desired.
Here’s what St. Paul associates with blessing today, and it’s a doozy!
“Blessed are those who lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Romans 4:7-8, quoting Psalm 32:1-2).
Paul’s main ideas in Romans are surprisingly few in number: this is one of the reasons he can explore them so thoroughly. Paul’s ideas could easily be summarized in Romans 4:5, the less famous cousin of Romans 3:23 and 1:17: “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” Each of the main ideas in this idea is worthy of a lifetime of meditation, but we have to start somewhere. Today, I want to receive the Lord’s blessing that He promises, and so what better way than to try to faithfully receive these blessed words: “Blessed are those who lawless deeds are forgiven.”
Jesus asks us to imagine, in one parable, that we are a man who has been forgiven a $100 million debt. That number makes more sense to us than a number of talents. What would be your response if you had racked up a $100 million dollar debt you could never pay (say, in the housing market) – and then were forgiven? Your gratitude would be greater than if you had been forgiven a $10 debt. “Gee, that’s nice,” might be our reaction to that.
In reality, the $100 million debt is far too cheap to represent the amount we’ve actually been forgiven. I could go higher: maybe we’ve been forgiven a $1 billion debt. What about a $1 trillion debt. At some point, we realize it’s not about the money.
It’s actually much more like this: you were once immensely rich and have a memory of what life used to be. But now you’re poor and are trapped in a society in which it is not possible for you to earn any more. You know you’ll be stuck in poverty for the rest of your life, without hope of escaping it, only you’ll still have the memory of what once was and might be, and you still have a taste for the finer things in life, only to be denied them. You go hungry every day and barely find enough scraps of food from a dumpster to keep yourself alive every day. You have one set of clothes that are too hot in summer and too cold in winter, and they stink. The good news is that so do you, and you don’t notice the stench of the clothes.Furthermore, you’re not healthy. Once, you used to run very fast and not only cared for yourself but were quite active in sports and travel. You never missed a day of work or were sick. But now you have pains that shoot through your body, and when you are injured you never seem to heal right. You’ve got no energy to drag your body around, and the pains are broken up by times when you can feel nothing at all. There are no doctors or nurses and no caretakers.
Needless to say, though once you were the life of the party, now you have no friends, and there are no parties. You are on your own. There is no one to laugh at your jokes, and there aren’t any jokes anymore anyway. There is no one to come home to, and no home to come home to anyway. No one is there to listen to how your day went or to encourage you.
It’s hard to tell which is worse: the lack of good in your life, the sickness and pain, or the loneliness: it all blends into one lethal cocktail that consumes you but never dissolves you.
In a word, your life is Hell. Except that Hell is likely to be much, much worse than I’ve described it.
This is what you have been delivered from. This is what forgiveness means, for what I’ve described, and worse, is what each of us deserves from the One who is Just and will render to each according to his works. To those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, He will give tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil.
But I’m not so interested in the curses of the unforgiven: I care about the blessings of the forgiven.
“Blessed are those who lawless deeds are forgiven.” And blessed are those who have not only been declared righteous but also participate in the righteousness of God. Blessed are those who are partakers of Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, and who will therefore see God, who is the ultimate blessing!
It will take a lifetime to experience and thank God for these blessings, chief of which is God Himself. If Hell is the withdrawal of God and His blessings from our lives, then Heaven is the presence of the God who blesses us in our lives.
Being united to God through faith in Jesus Christ, what will life be like for the blessed?
And now what response will you have to such a blessing that is so real in your life, even when you don’t remember it? Do you remember the response of the ten lepers who were healed? It was to return and give thanks. And that was only for a physical and ritual healing. What thanks and what praise should we give for a healing of the whole person of his body of sin?!
Understanding the blessing of the forgiveness of sins kind of puts things in perspective today, doesn’t it? Why not begin and end today remembering that, “Blessed are those who lawless deeds are forgiven,” and then responding with the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving?
Prayer: Prayer: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: I acknowledge and confess my manifold sins and wickedness, which I from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy Divine Majesty. I do earnestly repent, and am heartily sorry for these my misdoings. Have mercy upon me, most merciful Father; For my Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive me all that is past; and grant that I may ever hereafter Serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.
Almighty God, my heavenly Father, who of Your great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto You: Have mercy upon me; pardon and deliver me from all my sins; confirm and strengthen me in all goodness; and bring me to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
1. Imagine what a life of blessing in God’s presence will look like: in this life and the next.
2. Meditate on what an appropriate response should be to the blessing of the forgiveness of sins in your life.
Resolution: I resolve to remember God’s forgiveness today and to give Him thanks and praise throughout the day.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson