Jesus told those who questioned him that the first and greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul. To that he added a second—to love your neighbor as you love yourself. On these two commands, he said, rest all the law and the prophets.
This fundamental spiritual teaching can be turned around and stated in another way: if you want to love God, you must love all whom God loves, past and present. This sounds harder.
In our presentation last Sunday of ministry opportunities here at Christ Church Cathedral, we acknowledged that the heart of all our ministries is hospitality, the practice of love and compassionate care for each other and all others. Extending hospitality is the visible way we love God, by loving all God loves.
The readings from scripture for this Sunday deal with ways of acting and living that promote this life of love. Paul writes to the Church in Rome about the importance of welcoming those “weak in faith,” without passing judgment, treating them as full members of the household of God. Jesus answers Peter’s question about forgiveness by telling him he must forgive, not seven times, but seventy-seven, and then he tells a parable to teach the lesson.
Forgiveness requires careful examination of our own experiences and emotions and an honest, and often painful, process of working through denial, blame, victimization, and anger in order to reach a place in which we are open to receive God’s gift of wholehearted forgiveness and love. The list of those we need to forgive may be longer than we think, including parents, family, friends, co-workers, authority figures, long-ago figures no longer alive, even people we don’t know personally. Jesus’ words to Peter imply that this is a constant process of living into freedom and fullness of life.
The good news is that God is present with us, always, in that process. And that the gift of the Holy Spirit brings the grace to accomplish it.