We are a sinful people, easily duped by the enemy, distracted by the false lights that move our lesser selves. There are so many ways that we can transgress on our path to the Lord, countless side trips that can divert us from our true calling, to be reunited with God. I think most of us realize we are sinful, most understand that we personally are not immune from stumbling. That is why when we stop to reflect on the love of God, and the sacrifice of Jesus, we are both humbled and chastened, and with the psalmist we can give thanks for the greatness of the Lord.
Yet I am always mystified that, in spite of this knowledge, so many people, privately and publicly, act as though they have not sinned. They take on the false sense of righteousness that comes with being more closed than open to the mystery of God’s love.They see absolutes where God sees shades of gray. They profess to know the answers without knowing the motives and the questions. In a search for the certainty that only God can possess they convert wrenching human problems into rigid dogma.
Jesus today gives us a simple way to address this problem – we should forgive others for their shortcomings as we would have God forgive us. What does it mean to forgive? Certainly it means to pardon, to relieve another of a debt. But it also means to let go, to release feelings of resentment, to calm the anger and to look past the offense. This is tough stuff, to forgive others. It is easy for us to mouth the words, but can we heal the hurts and forget the pain that the other has caused us? Can we, as does God, wipe the slate clean? And can we leave to God the things that are God’s – judgment and punishment, vengeance and retribution – and keep to ourselves what Jesus calls us to do – to love without question?
I have been most fortunate in my life. I have received the minor slights that come with living in today’s world and, even though I try to forgive, find myself at times feeling angry or frustrated by what happened and what might have been. I have not suffered any serious injuries at the hands of another. But I have never been mugged, or robbed, attacked or injured, raped or murdered, nor has anyone close to me been subjected to such harm. So I cannot know how such a victim would feel, how they would find the courage and the faith to forgive, to let go of the resentment and pain, in those circumstances. I don’t know how I would feel when called by God to forgive and not to seek vengeance and retribution.
How difficult it is to set aside the rule in Exodus of “an eye for an eye” and to embrace Jesus’ call that we forgive those who wrong us seventy times seven! And even more difficult than forgiving another is to forgive ourselves, to recognize that we are sinful and not perfect, and so will make mistakes, over and over again, for as long as we live.
Perhaps “forgive” implies too much. God can fully forgive, and God can decide what consequences the victimizer should pay. Perhaps all we are capable of is trying to love the victimizer as Jesus would, by letting go of our resentments and hurt feelings. When we remember that we too are sinful, we too hurt others, we too have much to account for, shouldn’t it be easier to see ourselves in the person who has harmed us? Shouldn’t we be able to see Jesus there as well?
And so my prayer today is to see myself in those who harm me, so that I might love them as I am loved and forgive them as I am forgiven.
By T. Purcell