If you had a chance to describe our society in moral terms, how would you do it? What words would you choose? What behaviors would you identify? How is it you would relate the current state of society to the Lord God? And what pronoun would you use? Would you talk about they or we? Would you choose to identify with the sinful parts of society as things you yourself are also a part of, or would you point fingers at others?
Today’s Mass reading from the prophet Daniel is an amazing list of all of the horrible things that have been done by the people of God to God (and to each other). The list, by my count is six items, but you can count for yourself. “Lord, great and awesome God, you who keep your merciful covenant toward those who love you and observe your commandments! We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and your laws. We have not obeyed your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers, and all the people of the land.” We’ve sinned. We’ve been wicked. We’ve done evil. We’ve rebelled. We’ve departed from your commandments and laws. We have not obeyed your servants the prophets. Sounds like we are in a real mess.
And we can feel that way. We can have bad stretches in our relationship with God and wonder if we are ever going to get right with God again. And if we focused only on the long list provided for us by the prophet Daniel, that would be true. But is that the main point of the words the prophet Daniel gives us today? Or is there something more?
At the beginning, in the middle and at the end it seems that Daniel makes sure we fully understand the most important focus of this reading. God. You see even though we sin and do all of the things that Daniel mentions and more, the focus is on what God does. God gives to us mercy we do not deserve. God extends forgiveness we cannot earn. God reaches out to us not because we are worthy, but because we are loved. Let me say that again. God reaches out to us not because we are worthy, but because we are loved.
See God is the source of the merciful covenant. It is merciful because it teaches us the way to go about living as God wants. And God wants us to live this way because in so doing we thrive. And in the middle, we are reminded that justice is on God’s side. Justice is when everyone gets what they deserve. Except that when we sin, what we deserve is hell. But what we are given is God’s mercy and forgiveness. “But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness!” How beautiful! Can you imagine how much it is that God loves you? Imagine. Even though you sin, and I sin, God extends to us mercy and forgiveness. We can be forgiven, even when we turn away from God and reject him.
But to receive this forgiveness, we need to make sure our heart is ready and open for this forgiveness. And how is that? By seeking and striving to imitate God by forgiving others. We say in the Our Father a prayer about the connection between our receiving God’s forgiveness and extending it to others. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And in today’s gospel, we are reminded what we need to do. Be merciful. Stop judging. Stop condemning. Forgive. Give. These are tall orders, but there is one more thing to remember about our God. Not only does he extend mercy and forgiveness to us, but he also gives us grace. He helps us. So just take a moment, right now, to pray that God come into your heart. Say it with me. Jesus, come into my heart. Say this. Forgive my sins. And open my heart to forgive those who have sinned against me. For when I say prayers like this, I am able to receive all that you want to give me.