September 30, 2003

Forgiveness and Evangelization

"When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way. He repented of the evil that He had threatened to do to them; He did not carry it out. But this was greatly displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry." —Jonah 3:10-4:1

For years I have taught seminars on evangelization. In my early seminars, I focused on information. I assumed that if we only knew that the Lord had commanded us to evangelize, we would evangelize, after learning a few techniques on how to share our faith. I was wrong. Next, I focused on motivation. I taught and participated in many seminars on evangelization where we were so fired up that we almost ran out of the upper room of Pentecost. But the enthusiasm wore off. Third, I realized the need to evangelize the evangelizers. If we can't share our faith, do we have the faith? This approach bore good fruit, as many shared their faith in Jesus. Nevertheless, there was not an "evangelism explosion." We did not see the Lord day by day adding to our "number those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). Finally, I stumbled on the most fruitful means of promoting evangelization. I discovered that when I gave seminars on forgiving others, more people seemed to be freed for evangelization than when I gave seminars on evangelization. I discovered that unforgiveness was possibly the major obstacle to evangelization.

We all have a Jonah inside us. We refuse to evangelize the Ninevites, not because of fear but because deep down we don't want them saved (see Jon 4:1-2). We all are tempted to be like the older brother of the prodigal son. We don't think it's good news when our brothers and sisters are forgiven and loved by the Father (see Lk 15:27-28). And if we don't think God's forgiveness and mercy are good news, then we have no good news to share with those who don't know Jesus' love. Most of us deny that there is a Jonah within us. This denial is part of the sin of unforgiveness. But before dismissing the possibility of our unforgiveness we should ask the Holy Spirit to guide us to all truth and convict us of sin (Jn 16:8,13). Many of us will be surprised in the near future, as the Spirit brings to mind people we haven't truly forgiven.

When we have forgiven and are reconciled, we will no longer need to leave our evangelization at the altar (see Mt 5:24) but can go and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19). (For more on unforgiveness, order our pamphlet Unforgiveness is the Cause.)

 

Nihil obstat: Rev. Robert J. Buschmiller, August 29, 1991
Imprimatur: † Rev. James H. Garland, Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, September 5, 1991