God’s forgiveness is a mystery, in the sense that, although we know the limits of our human forgiveness, we acknowledge that with God’s forgiveness there is no limit. Experience teaches us that, however much we want to forgive, there are always the transgressions that we struggle to forgive, the hurts that we cannot absolve, that cling to us for life.
The Book of Wisdom contemplates this wonder of God’s forgiveness. Its starting point reaches far beyond our limited experience to the grandeur of creation itself. All that God has created, including those we struggle to forgive, are created from his loving purpose. “Yes, you love all that exists, you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence, for had you hated anything, you would not have formed it.”
As the passage unfolds it reflects that all that continues in existence is sustained by a loving God. “You spare all things because all things are yours, Lover of life, you whose imperishable spirit is in all.”
The passage challenges us, limited as we are, to understand that all are created from God’s love, and therefore worthy of forgiveness. As the passage draws to its conclusion we are reminded that God’s imperishable spirit, his imprint on every creature, can be lost. A loving Creator sees beyond the transgression, seeking only to restore the sinner to the wonder of his first creation. “Little by little, therefore, you correct those who offend, you admonish and remind them of how they have sinned, so that they may abstain from evil and trust in you.”
The passage lifts us from the shame of sin, reminding us of the love that brought us into being, the love that the Father longs to restore in us. It also challenges us to reach beyond our hardness of heart that is reluctant to forgive. With forgiveness we reach beyond hurt, seeing and encouraging the hidden beauty of the sinner. Forgiveness is not a challenge that we can achieve alone. Only with the repentance that opens us to the wonder of God’s forgiveness are we enabled to forgive those who have sinned against us.
The passage from Wisdom prepares us for Luke’s dramatic story of Zacchaeus, an unrepentant sinner. We jealously guard our forgiveness, granting it only to the truly contrite. Zacchaeus was introduced to the story without any sign of contrition for his exploitation of the poor. He was simply curious, climbing a sycamore tree to get a better view of Jesus, to learn what kind of man he was. It was Jesus who sought out Zacchaeus. “Zacchaeus, come down, hurry, because I must stay at your house today.
Before there was any sign of repentance or forgiveness, Jesus had demonstrated his love for Zacchaeus. There can be no greater sign of love than the request to share the intimacy of a sinner’s home and table. The contrast with the attitude of the onlookers could not have been more extreme. “He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house!” The truth unfolded in this Gospel is that we – sinners though we be – are the house and table chosen by Jesus in every celebration of the Eucharist. Graced by his presence, we, like Zacchaeus, are brought to true repentance. Let us be watchful that in life’s little moments, we, like Zacchaeus, might be embraced by God’s forgiveness.