Today, on the eve of Great Lent, we find an interesting juxtaposition of fasting and forgiveness. Jesus gives us instructions on fasting, admonishing us to focus on our inner life rather than on outward displays of piety, warning us of the dangers of riches, and pointing to the need to guard our hearts, for “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Yet these remarks are prefaced by His teaching on the importance of forgiveness, and we are told that our forgiveness by the Father depends on our willingness to forgive others.
Lent is a time for repentance and for returning to God. In today’s liturgical texts we hear of Adam’s expulsion from Paradise, which reflects our own alienation from God. Like Adam, we are called to return to the Father, and Jesus Christ provides us with the way for doing so. We are called to identify ourselves with Adam in realizing and seeking to overcome our separation from God.
However, this journey back to God is not simply an individual affair. We are not saved as isolated individuals, but as members of Christ’s Body. As Saint Anthony the Great tells us,
Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.
This is why the Church calls us to forgiveness at the very beginning of Great Lent. We start this journey back to God by being reconciled with our brothers and sisters, for in the words of the Apostle John,
If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 6:14-21:
The Lord said, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
“And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”