A Fresh Start"Receive God’s love and mercy and freely share it with others. Reconcile and make amends. Embrace being forgiven and forgiving."
“Shanah tovah,” good year! Happy new year in Hebrew. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, commemorates the creation of the world and marks the beginning of a 10-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Atonement, literally “covering,” provides a covering of sin and forgiveness, and a fresh start. As we reflect on 2020 and consider the year ahead, think of the positive personal and communal impact you can make by taking inventory, seeking repentance and making a fresh start.
In Paul’s instructions to the Colossians about how to live out their new life in Christ, he wrote: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13 NRSV). Being part of God’s holy and dearly loved people means being forgiven and forgiving. This is good news, but it’s hard. It can be difficult to pardon a one-time offense, and it’s awfully hard to forgive those who repeatedly aggravate or hurt us. Yet, Jesus Himself taught us to pray: “and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11:4). These are the terms of receiving mercy—forgiven and forgiving.
In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus attends an awkward dinner party at Simon the Pharisees’ home. Simon, skeptical of Jesus, rudely omits the basic, customary gestures of hospitality for his invited guest. He’s barely cordial to Jesus, let alone reverent, when a sinful woman crashes the gathering, anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume and tears and showering him with worship and adoration. The whole scene incites judgment from Simon—how dare this sinful woman do this, and how dare Jesus allow her.
Simon’s contempt reveals his pride and callousness, providing Jesus the perfect opportunity to point him towards an inward exploration of his own heart’s sinful estate and need for mercy. “Therefore, I tell you,” Jesus says to Simon, “her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little” (Luke 7:47 NRSV).
Both Simon and the woman were sinners. The only difference was that she knew it. This acknowledgment of her need for mercy enabled her to fully receive God’s forgiveness and overflow with love and gratitude. She gained the incomparable feeling of being loved and accepted, and the freedom of a clean slate.
In “Everything Belongs,” Richard Rohr writes, “I believe with all my heart that the mystery of forgiveness is the entire Gospel. When you ‘get forgiveness,’ you get it. We use the phrase ‘falling in love.’ I think forgiveness is almost the same thing. It’s a mystery we fall into: the mystery is God. God forgives all things for being imperfect, broken, poor.” As we take time for introspection with the Lord, we recognize our shortcomings more clearly and see our need for mercy. As we dare to admit the depth of our sin, we gain perspective on our dependence on God and the depth of His love and mercy, as well as what we are capable of bringing to our relationships.
Mother Theresa said that she engaged in her ministry of love because she knew there was a Hitler inside her. Marjorie Thompson notes that “the great saints are not shocked by any form of degradation in the human heart; they know it’s potential deep within themselves.” The ability to fully acknowledge our own sin and recognize the imperfection that we share leads us toward humility and withholding judgment. It is a powerful path to mercy and forgiving others. It is the foundation of community—holding us together through good times and bad, enabling us to grow in mutual love.
So, how about it? What do you say we approach this year as a fresh start? Set aside time to refresh our souls, take inventory and repent. Receive God’s love and mercy and freely share it with others. Reconcile and make amends. Embrace being forgiven and forgiving. May this be our witness in 2021. “Shanah tovah!”
Major Annalise Francis is administrator and corps officer for the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Ashland, OH.