What does it mean to forgive as we’ve been forgiven?

Our readings this week tell a story of faith, humility and grace. In the first reading, God was so pleased that Noah had maintained his faith throughout the flood that God made an everlasting covenant with Noah and his offspring. The rainbow that appeared after storms was a sign of God’s love for Noah and for any who lived like him in faith.

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‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel!’ (Mk 1:15)

Liturgical day
First Sunday of Lent (B)
Readings
Gn 9:8-15, Ps 25, 1 Pt 3:18-22, Mk 1:12-15
Prayer

What event in your life tested your faith?

For what have you had to ask forgiveness?

Have you ever had to forgive someone for something similar?

Although it is based on earlier sources, the account of Noah that we have in our Bibles dates from the postexilic period, about five centuries before Christ. In its original context, it likely gave comfort to the returned exiles who had survived 70 years of slavery in Babylon. Like Noah, they had kept their faith during a time of disaster. Like Noah, they were the recipients of a special covenant with God, who gave them the Sabbath as a sign of divine love.

This week’s second reading, attributed to St. Peter, speaks of this same covenant. The author and his fellow Jews were descendants of Noah and of the returned exiles. They placed great trust in the covenant that God had made with them through their ancestors. Now, because of Jesus’ resurrection, they could open that same covenant, which offered protection, blessing and inclusion in the divine household, to any who received baptism.

Through Christ, God offers a covenant of love to all people; but to experience the love, a person must respond in faith. Maintaining faith in times of distress is not easy. It did not come naturally to Noah and his family or to the Babylonian exiles, and it does not come easily today.

In this week’s Gospel passage, Jesus urges repentance as a first step toward faith. As Pope Francis recently reminded his listeners, “Only those who recognize their sins and ask forgiveness can receive the understanding and forgiveness of others.” It is pointless to seek reconciliation with someone we have wronged if we refuse first to change. Moreover, it is only through our own repentance that we can learn to recognize and trust the true repentance of others. A person who has never sought forgiveness has little understanding of how to forgive another. Only when we know the true vulnerability and relief that comes from righting our own wrongs will we be sensitive to the same movements in others. Repentance for our sins strengthens our compassion for others.

Repentance also teaches us to trust the love of others. Asking forgiveness is an intimidating task, but when we do it properly, it can deepen the bonds of love. This is probably why Jesus counsels us to repent first, then believe. What we learn from trusting the love of others we can apply to our faith in the love of God. We can, like Noah and his family and like the returned exiles, keep our faith in God alive even when it is difficult.

Lent has begun, and with it comes an opportunity to increase our faith through works of penance. Every time we set right some wrong we have done, we come that much closer to the faith of Jesus, who found signs of the Father’s love in everything his eyes beheld.

 

[The Word is a weekly column of Scripture reflections published by America for over 70 years. You can sign up for a weekly newsletter of our newest reflections along with selections from our archive here. The Word podcast is available for free on iTunes.]

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