Last week Fr Joe shared with us a saying of Pope Francis that Christians are to be ‘artisans of reconciliation’.
An artisan is someone who crafts things that are both useful and beautiful.
Our Christian ‘craft’ is reconciliation with God and with one another, within and beyond the church: and reconciliation is both useful and beautiful.
Through time and application we can begin to master our craft and make something of enduring value. That is what we call the 'journey of discipleship'.
Another word for disciple could be ‘apprentice'. The Christian faith is an apprenticeship in reconciliation and love on all levels.
The artisan needs tools. If we are to be ‘artisans of reconciliation’ we need some tools for our craft.
The tool presented to us in this morning’s gospel reading is forgiveness.
It is not single-use-forgiveness, but forgiveness that endures, is patient, is costly and that aches for reconciliation.
The letter to the Colossians says, ‘God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross’ (Colossians 1.20).
Forgiveness flows from the heart of Jesus - his heart wounded on the cross - and Jesus calls us to forgive our brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, from the heart.
Reconciliation between human beings heals the wounded heart of Jesus, because the mission and purpose of Jesus Christ is to ‘reconcile all things to himself’ and he does this through forgiveness: ‘Father, forgive them’.
Perhaps the greatest hurdle is first to know that we are forgiven.
Knowing yourself to be forgiven enables forgiveness to flow. The slave in the parable did not realise that forgiveness is a gift: ‘give’ is part of forgive. And he was unable to forgive even a smaller debt of his fellow slave.
‘Forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’ as we pray with Jesus in the ‘Our Father’.
Forgiveness also takes us deep into the complexities of the human heart.
When I make my confession - and seek forgiveness from God - I am seeking to go deep into my heart to uncover, to name and to confess the actions, the grievances and grudges, the long held hurts and irritations which have separated me from my Maker and from my fellow creatures.
It’s little wonder that people shy away from Confession. But what a release! To know that I am released from those things, that they have no hold over me and I am free to love and therefore reconciled to God. I am, as the hymn puts it, ‘ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven’.
Forgiveness is deep and complex, it is subtle but brings about amazing things.
Forgiveness raises hard questions: are there things, are there people, that can never be forgiven? Are some things, some people, just too bad to be forgiven? Why should I repeatedly forgive someone who keeps making the same mistake, or misdemeanour or sin?
When I forgive I am giving away my grievances and resentments. I am not suspending pain, I am not forgetting what has been done to me, I am not capitulating to the person who has wronged me.
When Gee Walker forgave the racist killers of her son Anthony, after his murder in 2005, she did a remarkable thing, driven by her Christian discipleship, her apprenticeship in the ways of reconciliation and love.
Her forgiveness did not undermine justice; the murderers went to prison for 23 years and 17 years.
Her forgiveness did not end her pain; she lost her son.
But as a Christian Gee Walker knew that forgiveness is never a dead end. Forgiveness renews people and situations, it restores relationships, it opens up future possibilities. Gee Walker was not capitulating to those who wronged her but was saying that they would have no more power over her. Forgiveness is strength, forgiveness is dignity.
Not to forgive would have locked her into never being able to live again: living again, being alive, is the fruit of forgiveness and reconciliation. This is resurrection life, life beyond resentment, reconciled life.
There are many things that might be weighing heavy on our hearts today: perhaps grievance, anger or bitterness, memory of trauma or pain or just the niggles of everyday life and rubbing up alongside tricky people. Take those people with you to the reconciling heart of Jesus; pray for them and yourself to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
As artisans of reconciliation we have the tool of forgiveness: being forgiven and being forgiving. And all this flows from God.
How about this week try it out afresh? As an artisan of reconciliation, and knowing yourself to be forgiven in Christ, look out for opportunities to forgive. And go out in newness of life: ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.