You’re dead to me.

I give up on people. I do. Most of us do, I think. If someone burns us enough, we get to the point where we can no longer give them another second, third, fourth chance. I’m sure someone has given up on me too. It is very likely I failed someone, said the wrong thing, or didn’t say the right thing too many times for someone.

Conventional wisdom and, in fact, the cardinal virtues probably lead us to believe we can write them off. Prudence tells us that we probably shouldn’t trust that person any more. And yes, that is probably wise. Justice tells us they aren’t fulfilling their duty and so what we owe them has changed. Temperance would have us reach a reasonable amount of latitude before we write them off. Fortitude might invite us to be strong in our stern rejection of the other. 

While it feels wrong to speak of giving up on someone in the abstract, in the particular, I bet you and I can think of a least one person we gave up on because their actions didn’t follow their words. 

In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus instructs Peter that he not simply forgive someone, but that he should perpetually forgive them – seventy seven or seven times seven times. Jesus surely teaches virtue, so why can he teach this unlimited forgiveness? Perhaps it is because the most central virtue for Jesus isn’t prudence or justice, but it is Love. We forgive over and over again because of love. 

Of course that doesn’t mean we abandon the other virtues. God’s love is just. God’s love is prudent. Forgiving and loving doesn’t mean we fully trust someone not worthy of our trust. However love demands that we never write anyone off. 

God’s love is exactly that for us. We need God’s forgiveness every single day. God never gives up on us. God never writes us off. God gives us all the chances we need and then some. There is no amount of failure we can accomplish that will cause God to give up on saving us. 

In this Sunday’s gospel parable, the servant begs for forgiveness. This is an essential aspect of our forgiveness. God won’t force forgiveness on us. We must want it too. 

Live It:
Mini Challenge: Ask God for forgiveness or simply go to Confession. 

Big Challenge: Reach out to someone you have written off. Just make contact and say hello. See how God uses that act.

Sunday Readings September 13th, 2002.

Dead or Alive.

April 29th Sunday Readings.

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Arbor day 1989, I come home from school with a runt-of-the-litter little sapling that I was determined to plant and grow in our yard. I had been convinced by a presentation at my elementary school that planting trees was the way to save the world. My mom was convinced this sad little sapling was going to die in the first week it was planted. It did not. 

Now the tree is so large that my parents have to regularly have it trimmed so that it doesn’t harm the house. It is a healthy, fully grown conifer. Why? Because it was connected to a good source of water and food. It was planted in good soil. 

Every single Arbor Day sapling my poor daughters have brought home has not been so lucky. Whether they rot in our fridge waiting to be planted or whither in the yard for lack of water, these poor things never make it. Why? They aren’t connected to a good source of water and food. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus explains that he is the vine and we are the branches. God the Father is the vine grower. The analogy that Jesus is making is so helpful for the spiritual life because it demonstrates clearly that being connected to Jesus Christ is a life or death reality. 

To be cut off from God doesn’t mean someone is a bad person. To be cut of from God is to be a dead person. 

Morality, right and wrong, isn’t some list of arbitrary rules that someone made up long ago that we have to reevaluate in each new generation. No, the purpose of leading a moral life is to be connected to the source of all life, Jesus Christ. The rules of the moral life don’t exist for their own sake. The rules exist to keep us connected to the source of life. One direction leads to life. One direction leads to death. 

The reality is that most who are away from God don’t have a defining moment they cut themselves off from God. Most people drift, slowly and painlessly, away from God. At some point they have forgotten what is like to even been connected with the source of life. At this point, sin and death feel normal. 

Yet, when we find ourselves disconnected from God and thus disconnected from his body, the Church, we may sense that something isn’t quite right. We may not notice it right away. We may not recognize it constantly, but in the small hours or when we are alone or when we are ambushed by a moment of unexpected silence, we can feel the withering, the drying out of our life. 

The good news is that we are never too far gone for God. The vine grower has the supernatural capacity to connect us again to the source of life and to fill us again with goodness, love, beauty, and grace. There is nothing we can do to stop God from loving us. God is willing to go the distance to give us life again. Not because we deserve it, but because of his unconditional love for us. 

Live it:
Go outside. Go find a tree and take 5 or more minutes in silence near it. Be reminded that just as it needs water, good soil, and sunlight, you need to be connected to God to live. Ask God to bring you close to him. 

Minnesota Nice?

April 2nd Sunday Readings.

Last week, I got flipped off while driving . I had moved into a turn lane to make a left at a stop light when a TruckCensoredlarge heating and air conditioning truck swerved into the turn lane. I clomped on my breaks and gave a little “honk honk” with my horn to let the driver know I was there and to avoid an accident. I didn’t lay on the horn angrily or scream – just a little, “maybe you can’t see me, fyi, I am here” kind of a honk.

The fellow Minnesotan driving the truck looked at me through his side mirror and proceeded to let me know that I was #1 in his book. This didn’t seem very Minnesota nice. Nor is it wise since his company’s name and phone number were painted on the side of his truck.

To further compound this awkward exchange, we were both heading to Menard’s and pulled into the parking lot at the same time. In a true act of Minnesota nice, we both avoided each other on our way into and while shopping at the home improvement store.

Minnesota has this reputation of being full of nice people. For the most part, this is true. When I told my wife the story of my morning, she responded that it wasn’t Minnesota nice to honk at the other driver in the first place, even if it did prevent an accident. Which made me wonder, is “nice” always good?

Sometimes we use the word nice when really we mean kind or generous or charitable. If those are the kinds of things we mean when we say nice, then by all means, be nice. But I don’t think that Jesus Christ left heaven, came to earth, suffered, and died on a cross just so that we would become irrationally polite.

Our readings for this Sunday teach us that Jesus’ mission was not to make mean people, nice, but to make dead people, live.

In the first reading God says through the prophet Isaiah, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.” In the second reading Paul writes to the Romans, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” And the gospel is the beautiful story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

If Jesus didn’t come to make us nice, but to make the dead, live, then the question we need to ask ourselves when we lay our heads on our pillows each night is not, “Was I nice?” but instead we should ask, “Was I fully alive today?”

Man-Fully-AliveIs being kind, generous, and charitable part of being fully alive? Yes. Is being nice our sole goal each day? No. Being alive in Christ is our #1 priority and purpose each day. Are you alive?

 

LIVE IT:
Right now – Take 3 huge breathes and let the air slowly out of your lungs. Feel what it feels like to be alive. Now make a plan for something you are going to do tomorrow to be more alive than you were today.