Reflections on Forgiveness and Forgiving (Tom Masters)

Tom ncp portraitReading the text and commentary for the Focolare Movement’s “Word of Life” for May, 2015, brought to my mind an experience from two years ago when I was in Rome to meet with the editorial staff of the publishing house Città Nuova.  On March 13, the very day that the meeting began, it happened that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who took the name Francis, was elected pope.  The following Sunday he appeared in St. Peter’s Square for the customary noontime Angelus address. He offered a reflection on Jn 8:1-11, the story of Jesus’s response to the woman caught in adultery.  He illustrated the meaning and quality of divine mercy with a personal anecdote:

Feeling mercy. . . changes everything. . . . We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient…. Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God’s love would make them white as snow. This mercy is beautiful!

I remember, when I had only just become a bishop in the

Who Needs a “Jubilee of Mercy”?

“Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: have mercy upon us.”

UnknownEach one of us, many times during our lives, have raised our voices and cried, “Lord have mercy.” Mercy is the kind of forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly. From a Christian perspective, it is the gift that God or another person offers to someone by not treating him/her in the way they deserve.

For many, this cry for mercy is a perpetual line of their daily prayers. It expresses our deepest inability to cope with the pain in our hearts or the desperate frustration with the challenges of our sinful human condition.

We all long for mercy. The tragedy is that we are not prone to offer it to others.

This past March, Pope Francis announced, to the surprise of many, a holy year. From Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016, Catholics throughout the world are called to celebrate a “Jubilee of Mercy.” The celebration of a jubilee originated in Judaism and it was the occasion to offer forgiveness and reconciliation.


True Friendships (3)

The goal of life for every Christian should be the kingdom of God. The gospel is the good news of the kingdom of God. Tragically, we have settled for what Dallas Willard calls “the gospel of sin management,” a gospel which is something far less than the gospel of the kingdom.

UnknownVery early in the church’s history a group of men and women, fearing the devastation to the soul brought about by the breakdown of spiritual culture inside the church, went to live in the desert in order to learn how to practice the Christian life with greater clarity. Robert Wilken (photo), the famous church historian and patristic scholar, has written, “In their writings the phrase used most often to depict what one strives for in life’s daily struggles was ‘purity of heart.’ Without purity of heart, all yearning for holiness and all desire for God come to naught, for hour by hour, even minute by minute, we are bent and shaped by distractions and wayward thoughts, many good and legitimate, that drive our minds and take our

By |January 16th, 2014|Categories: Forgiveness, Liturgy, Patristics, Sports|

Philomena – A Film That Reveals Gospel Grace and Forgiveness

220px-Philomena_posterI saw the new movie Philomena last week. I was unprepared for how much this film would move me to the depths of my spirit. It is my “sleeper” film for 2013! I noted this weekend, with great joy, that it was nominated for the Golden Globe as “Best Picture.” (There are only five nominees. The Academy now has ten nominees and if Philomena is not nominated someone should investigate the process!)

Philomena is a 2013 British film based upon the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, written by Martin Sixsmith. (Martin Sixsmith was the reporter who helped Philomena search for her lost son.) The film tells the true story of Philomena Lee’s 50-year-long search. The book focuses more, as the title suggests, on the life of Michael/Anthony (Philomena’s son) after his adoption in Ireland. The film focuses more on Philomena herself yet it gives us a clear picture of what transpired in Michael/Anthony’s life over the years since he was taken from the convent in Ireland.

As the film begins Martin Sixsmith has just lost his job

The Danger of Gossip

Mother-Antonia-Brenner-by-David-Maung-San-Diego-Red-300x146Which is worse, lying or gossiping? Have you ever bothered to ponder this question? I have asked it, more than once, but not thought about it deeply enough I confess. Seriously, think about this one for a moment.

Mother Antonia Brenner, a precious Christian who passed away last week in Mexico, makes a clear and compelling case that gossip is a far worse sin than lying in this three-and-a-half minute video. I happen to think she is right! Decide for yourself but do not miss this as I assure you she will make you think more carefully about your own tongue and personal holiness, rightly defined.

May God forgive me and help me to be truly holy and thus become a man who learns how to stop the gossip chain. I confess that I am asking what this means about my Facebook posts that I put on my wall which (can) stir up controversy. I welcome your personal witness and insights in this regard.

Mother Antonia says: “The tongue that gossips is where the devil washes his hands.” It seems

The Scapegoat Who Finally Removes All Our Sin – Part Two

UnknownThe four Gospels describe in specific detail how Jesus died during the Passover Feast, not Yom Kippur. So how do we explain this (seeming) problem? I submit that the date on the Jewish calendar was Passover when he died but the events that transpired look exactly like the Old Testament Day of Atonement.

Let me explain. Jesus is arrested and brought to the high priest to be examined. The high priest accuses Jesus of blasphemy, placing what is said to be the guilt and sin of the Jews upon him when in reality all that these various leaders are doing is transferring their own guilt upon Jesus in a mock display of power and symbol. Jesus is then led away like a scapegoat to the place called “the skull.” It was a wilderness; a dump where criminals were taken to die. Here is what I see – the Gospels tell you that this is Passover, but the storyline says this is not just a Passover lamb but this (he) is a scapegoat. When Jesus breathes his last breath

The Scapegoat Who Finally Removes All Our Sin, Part One

I hear numerous objections to what I’ve proposed about how to understand the atoning sacrifice of Jesus in his death. I know these objections quite well since I personally made most of them for decades. The only problem with these objections, at least to me, is that they can be answered quite clearly by a better, richer and fuller understanding of the Old Testament sacrificial system. If this understanding is correctly joined with the teaching given to us by the writer to the Hebrews, then we can make better sense of Jesus’ death and what happened at the cross.

I am referring to Hebrews chapter nine when I make this statement. (I will include the whole chapter here to create the context. I have also included some relevant translation notes in parentheses, notes which are particularly important to reading this chapter.)

Hebrews 9

Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tent (tent=tabernacle) was constructed, the first one, in which were the lampstand, the table, and the bread of the Presence; this is called the Holy Place. Behind

The Depth & Extent of God’s Forgiveness Displayed in the Atonement – Part 2

UnknownOver the centuries theologians have developed numerous models for expressing the saving significance of Jesus’ death. We have sketched out several of these models, ever so simply I freely admit, in several blogs the past few weeks. I have concluded, along with Joel B. Green, Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, that: “No interpretation of the atonement can be regarded as the only authentic one, not least because no one model or metaphor can exhaust the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion” (Fuller Theology, News & Notes, Fall 2012, 3, italics are my own). I urge you, friends and readers, to grasp the importance of Green’s statement. You should realize that by opposing the simple clarity of this conclusion that you are likely opposing other important Christian truths, especially the unity of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

Joel Green suggests that this was true even within the time in which the New Testament itself was written since several different models seem to clearly be at work in the apostolic texts. This was true as well in

The Depth and Extent of God’s Forgiveness is Displayed in the Atonement – Part 1

imagesYesterday I wrote about atonement as forgiveness. I showed that there truly is a substitionary aspect of the atonement that must be grasped. This is because our sins actually require the paytment of a debt, or what has been called a ransom price. These elements are all clearly present in the ancient faith, both in the Old Testament system and in the New Testament Gospels and epistles. Debates about “how” this debt was paid, or “to whom” it was paid, generally tend to get us off track. Let me take this point a bit further.

I earlier referenced Matthew 18 and the payment that comes about through the canceling of the debt, or through forgiveness. But this debt theme in Matthew 18 seems to refer to money. The point of the story is clearly meant to take us beyond a monetary debt. Consider the sin of adultery as just one poignant and powerful example, especially since this particular sin demonstrates the whole aspect of violating and breaking a God-ordained covenant.

A person trusts their marriage partner deeply but they

The Atonement and the Grace of Forgiveness

forgive_sunday_icon1If you follow the idea of atonement that I began to develop yesterday, namely that the atonement is ultimately about divine forgiveness, then you can readily see that a payment is truly made to atone (lit: to make us one again). This payment, says Jim Danaher, is one that “God makes to himself, which means that he suffers the loss” (Eyes That See, Ears That Hear, 99). Let this claim sink in for a moment before you read on. In fact, please read this entire paragraph several times.

When I first began to grasp this idea it seemed so completely right to me yet it was something that I had never heard before, at least heard so clearly stated. It answered a lot of questions, though I freely admit that it did not answer all of them. As I hope to show it has the power to give us a better, and more love-centered, explanation of what Jesus actually did in dying for us on the cross. He took our debt upon himself and then out of his


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