A few years ago I preached on forgiveness and the relationship between my mother and her eldest sister: a sister who cut herself off from the family for more than 30 years now. After worship that day, I was asked if the relationship had been repaired and if so how did that start. At the time my answer was no that it hadn’t been repaired. Today I have an updated story.
When it comes to forgiveness my mother has an amazing capacity to forgive those who have hurt her, those who have caused her undue pain. She had forgiven her sister many years ago yet forgiveness was not something that came so easily to her sister and her hurt and anger, her shame and embarrassment remained so strong that reconciliation was not on the horizon for her. This never deterred my mother. She still extended invitations to the monthly sister’s parties, to major family events like my wedding, and always remembered her on birthdays and anniversaries. She continuously gave her sister opportunities even though they were continuously ignored and the silence prevailed.
Forgiveness has always been a tenant of the faith that I have struggled with and I continue to work towards getting better at it. So, I would get frustrated with my aunt’s callousness and I would complain about having to spend the postage to get no response and the having to watch the heartbreaking disappointment on my mother’s face when silence persisted. But my mother would always say, “It’s my sister, I have to try. She will always be your aunt and you can never give up on family”. Recently, my mother was talking to her nieces, my oldest aunt’s children, and found out that her sister was not doing well. She was losing her battle with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. This conversation did not fall on deaf ears.
In response, my mother organized all five of the other sisters and they took a road trip up to Vermont to see their sister. My mother was tired of the silence between everyone in the family and my aunt. They drove up. They fought between themselves in the cars. But when they got to my Aunt’s house, there were tears, there was healing, and there was forgiveness between the sisters and for that moment a divided family became one. My aunt was eager for forgiveness and a new opportunity at a relationship with her family especially at this scary and important juncture in her life.
As I read our scriptures this morning, I couldn’t help but feel the intent behind the parable. It is about forgiveness and new life in the family of humanity, between one another and person to God. I felt for the first time that all these years my mother has not been crazy but rather she has been trying to live the forgiveness she hopes and believes God gives to all people and to her.
Our parable this morning, spoke about the wheat and the enemy sowing weeds among the crops. You may have noticed that the owner told his servants not to pull the weeds for fear of pulling the crops instead. Jesus was saying that no one is perfect in life, in churches, in any community of people. Everyone sins, everyone struggles to remain faithful. While we are still breathing, there is always the chance that we come back to living faithful lives and in that case God offers forgiveness and new beginnings. Jerome, a 4th century Bishop, wrote, “The words the Lord spoke – ‘Lest gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them – leave room for repentance. We are advised not to be quick in cutting off a fellow believer …”.
I would take this further to speak to the interactions and relationships in our personal lives as well. We should never give up on those we once cared about, those who we disagree with, those who sometimes cause us pain and anxiety. There is always the chance that they are waiting for forgiveness and yearning for the new beginnings that they lack the courage to seek out. This was the case with my eldest aunt and now she has the opportunity to have a relationship with the sisters she cut out of her life and her children are free to have a relationship with their aunts that they felt denied of all these years. If God is open to forgiveness, then we ought to be as well. We should always be searching for ways to extend the hand of reconciliation whenever it is possible.
We come together each Sunday searching for how God is trying to share his knowledge with us. Christ is sharing God’s knowledge with this parable, with this teaching. Christ’s teachings were meant to be freeing in all the areas that matter the most: spiritually and emotionally, freeing us from all that hinders us in our relationships with one another and with God. We can only achieve that freedom and relief by doing the hard work of trying for forgiveness and new beginnings. So if you are struggling with forgiveness, giving it or receiving it, then turn to God in prayer and say, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, and I will glorify your name forever”. Then go out and keep trying, keeping reaching out, and find the relief of a life lived in God’s glory, in God’s ways, and in God’s forgiveness.
 Jerome, 4th century AD.
 Psalm 86: 11, NRSV.
(Based on Psalm 86: 11-17 and Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43)