These habits of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, are the very virtues that make it possible for us to forgive ourselves and others as the Lord forgave us.
In these few words we come face to face with the most important and redemptive act of love, that is, forgiveness. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” How are we to do this? Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, gives us both the necessary advice we need, and the model to imitate. There is nothing beyond our comprehension here. The advice is clear, simple and logical and the model to follow is, of course, Jesus Christ. But we also recognize that it is not easy.
First, the practical advice. Paul tells us that, in order to forgive as the Lord forgave, we must rid ourselves of our sinful habits. This, of course, requires us to do some serious self-reflection, followed by some seriously hard work. It takes humility to recognize one’s sinful habits. It takes humility to desire to change those habits. And it takes humility to submit one’s will to the will of God. It takes humility to recognize that it is one’s selfish will that has enslaved one and that it is God’s will that is the one and only true liberation. Paul writes: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry…[and] rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from you lips.” (verses 5&8) These are the old clothes we need to throw off and put aside. We are to put on the new clothes the Christian life.
What are the new clothes that we are to wear as Christians? They are, “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” These are the virtues of saints. These are noble ideals worthy of human beings made in the image and likeness of God. If we are honest with ourselves, we see the wisdom of these virtues, but we also see that we fall short of them. Sometimes we may even feel that the challenge is too great for us. But we must not give in to such feelings. God does not ask us to do the impossible. He has given us both the instincts, and the desire to live out of these ideals. Ideals are not just fancy dreams, they are approachable goals, especially in the light of faith, and the grace of God. These habits of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, are the very virtues that make it possible for us to forgive ourselves and others as the Lord forgave us. Again, God does not ask us to do what is impossible to us.
When we choose more and more often to practice and to live out of these virtues, we become more and more able to forgive as the Lord forgave us. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, after all, are the virtues that make forgiveness possible in us. “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (verse 14) You see, God is telling us in Jesus that, because sin is the source of all broken relationships, those between us and God, and those between us and our human relationships, love’s most profound expression had to be, and continues to be, forgiveness. God showed us, in Jesus’ selfless suffering and death, that his love for us was not diminished or destroyed by our sinfulness. He was showing us that love’s binding force could be renewed in and through forgiveness. In the economy of heaven, love and forgiveness are inextricably bound together, at least until Christ comes again and the Kingdom of God is established forever. What the Lord has done for us, we are now to do for one another. This is how love heals all wounds. We are called to heal one another, just as he healed us.
Lord, help us to let go of the things that prevent us from forgiving one another as you forgave us. Give us the graces we need to develop the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Draw us ever more into your loving arms and help us to be missionaries of mercy in this wounded world. We ask these things in your most holy name, Jesus. Amen!
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