The Forgiven and The Unforgiven
A few years ago, Lewis Smedes spent a day at the Los Angeles county jail trying to bail someone out. After seeing a stream of assorted thugs and addicts coming in and out of the jail, Smedes became rather cynical. “What a bunch of losers,” he thought. He struck up a conversation with a young black man in a clerical collar who was visiting the jail. It turns out that this young man was not a pastor; he was an insurance salesman who spent one day each week ministering to people in lock-up at the county jail.
Smedes was curious about the kind of people this young man met in his ministry. Weren’t they all addicts? Weren’t they all losers? The young man told him, “Well, maybe they are, but that’s just not the way I divide people up. The only two categories of people I really care about are the forgiven people and the unforgiven people.” (Lewis B. Smedes. A Life of Distinction, pp. 166-167)
The forgiven people and the unforgiven people. That covers everyone. But, that’s not really the way we go about dividing people up. We have a list of people whom we judge are not right with God because of the way they live their life. Our list has those who are not right because they do not see the world as we do. And there’s our list of those that we will just ignore or stay away from because they demand too much from us or their goodness makes our imperfections too obvious.
But, we have to humbly admit we are on the list of the forgiven people. So many times we offend someone we love and they give us the gift of their pardon, and we go on. So many times we let opportunities to do good pass us by even when we know they are there, yet God always offers us the chance to redeem our selfishness or laziness as another opportunity comes our way. We offend God’s love in little ways and sometimes in more serious, and we know without a doubt that God will embrace us in his loving forgiveness if we will only ask.
In the light of the powerful love of Jesus, we know we have fallen short of what we could be and should be. We let our pride, hard-heartedness, and hard-headedness keep us from admitting what needs to be changed to make us truly reflect the love of Jesus and so we resist giving up things in our life that are not in harmony with God’s ways. We sometimes are comfortable being among the unforgiven people, and so we remain as we are because God never forces us to come to his love.
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Jesus said it, so it has to be true. And most of us, if we were asked if we expect to one day be in heaven, would definitely say that we plan to make it through the gate. But, if the gate is narrow, and our entrance is not automatically given, can we be sure that we are among those strong enough to squeeze in? As we stand there knocking at the door, it will take more than simply being acquainted with the Lord, knowing our prayers and not being too bad in our everyday life. But, there is every reason for hope. It does not appear to be too difficult to get through the narrow door because Jesus says that people are going to come from the four corners of the world to enter into his banquet. How is this possible? Because Jesus says about himself, “I am the gate for the sheep.”(JN10:7) He is going to make sure we get in because he only has two kinds of people on his list of the invited – the forgiven and the unforgiven.
–Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk