There’s no feeling quite like that of unmerited grace.
Say, fer instance, hearing your name called as the prize winner in a skills contest…when you know for certain you’re simply not all that skillful.
Such was the case the other day as we wrapped up the golf league season with our Finale event. Two teams battled for the coveted Championship Cup…but the rest of us were out on the course mostly for fun – and the chance to win a little cash for ‘low score,’ ‘longest drive’ or ‘closest to the pin.’
I enjoyed great fellowship throughout the afternoon. And it’s a good thing, because my game seemed to have already gone south for the winter. Every stroke, every hole presented a challenge – and I didn’t really give ‘par’ much of a scare at any point in the round. Such was the context for the tee shot I landed on the green on #4: Eligible for the ‘closest-to-the-pin’ competition… but a loooong way from home. With at least half the league still playing behind me, I didn’t expect the shot to stand up.
But wonder of wonders, my mediocre effort managed to fend off all rivals…and put me in position for a modest prize. So, to borrow a sentiment from the Psalmist…
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
Much more valuable than the cash, though, was the camaraderie I experienced during the round – and indeed, throughout the season. ‘League’ is a lot like ‘community’ to me…a place where I am known, and accepted, even though I bring a fair amount of baggage to the weekly proceedings. No one in this motley crew approaches perfection…neither as golfers, nor as human beings…and yet, somehow it works. Week after week. Season after season.
Standing ‘round the 18th green as we cheered the last groups to come in, it occurred to me that there is grace in this community. Grace conveyed by the whole. After all, you can’t very well have a league of one.
But this grace sometimes comes with a cost: Our willingness…my willingness…to forgive offenses and to accept imperfection.
How many times does this challenge occur? Stick around the league long enough, you realize that the formula Jesus proposes in this Sunday’s gospel is pretty much on track:
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
But here’s the thing: If we’re each called to forgive that often…there’s a decent chance we also need to be forgiven just as frequently.
Jesus seems to be telling us: Forgiveness is the currency that makes community work. And if you think about it, it’s really ‘house money’. We haven’t necessarily earned it. The grace to forgive comes ultimately from the One Who is Love.
Maybe that’s what St. Paul has in mind when he encourages us to imagine ourselves in an entirely new way:
None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.
For if we live, we live for the Lord…
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.