I like to thank someone when they do something special, or even when they just do a nice job at a normal assignment. I also like to be thanked when I do something special: it is just part of polite society. In a similar fashion, I try to forgive someone when it is called for in life. That one is harder to do and there are many times where I fail at it miserably. Jesus tells us to constantly forgive someone who turns to us and "repents". I wonder what he meant by that word, or if our translators got it wrong. For to repent means to change one's life, but the way Jesus talks about this individual he utilizes, the person keeps screwing up and then turning around and says "I repent" and we are told to forgive them each time. How is it a changed and transformed life if the person keeps screwing up? What a bother! Likewise Jesus seemingly tells us to expect no thanks for our work except to expect more work and that we are to accept our station in life and all that goes with that station without complaint or expectation. Again, what a bother!
Both of these seem to be difficult, if not impossible, orders from Jesus: this seemingly endless forgiveness and this seemingly endless thankless living. That is one way of looking at this reading from Luke. By looking at it only that way it is easy to see how people throw their hands up in the air and walk away from the Gospel in disgust and frustration.
Jesus recognizes our humanness. He knows it personally, not only by being so closely associated with his disciples and followers, but because he was fully human too. He knows our innate penchant for being unforgiving, he knows our yearning to be thanked for the ordinary things we do. Jesus is telling us that the kingdom he is creating is different. Forgiveness is there for us. God's forgiveness of our foibles and sins is beyond our understanding, and we must model that. Jesus is saying that in this kingdom we won't need to be thanked because we will already know our work is appreciated: we will know it at such a deep level that those expectations will not be a part of us.
Perhaps a bother now, but not when we make the kingdom present. A reordering or how we think about ourselves and others, an understanding of our humanness and our inter-connectivity is what we are pushed toward in our reading from Luke today. Not easy, but worth the bother.
Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.