Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Forgive Them, for They Know Not What They Do"

Jesus’ Seven Last Words, sayings offered from the cross, may serve as guidance for the spiritual life. You are invited to contemplate each saying during the seven Wednesdays of Lent and Holy Week.

Most of the people who do us wrong or hurt us or diminish us have no idea.

Leaders take us to war. Legislators fail to protect our rights or reduce support for needed programs. Churches exclude many of us. Strangers do not welcome us. The “powers that be” frequently benefit the rich, the privileged, the powerful, the “in-crowd,” the beautiful, the popular, even the unjust and infamous—the few rather than the many. Families and friends sometimes disappoint us or hurt us unknowingly. Colleagues and co-workers may overlook our good work or decent efforts. Competitiveness rules, rather than collegiality, collaboration, cooperation, and compromise.

And then there are all those intentional slights and “slings and arrows.”

Forgiveness is central to spiritual progress. To do other than forgive is spiritually crippling. Failing or refusing to forgive means being stuck on a cross, a permanent “martyr.”

Jesus saw that, I believe. He knew forgiveness was key to spiritual advancement. Resurrection only comes when we let go of all that holds us back, that keeps us down, that prevents us rising.

“Forgive seventy times seven” was perhaps Jesus’ single most helpful spiritual guidance. The prayer he taught his disciples implied that the forgiveness we offer is the forgiveness we get, whether debts, trespasses, or sins. Think older brother as well as prodigal son. Think unforgiving forgiven servant. Think turning the other cheek or going the extra mile.

Jesus taught that if, when offering our gift at the altar, we remember wronging someone, to leave the gift and first be reconciled. The mirror experience of that also seems true, that, when offering our gift, we remember someone wronging us, first forgive. Maybe that’s part of what’s behind that saying in second Corinthians, “God loves a cheerful giver.” How can we be cheerful when we don’t forgive?

From the cross: Jesus forgave the Roman Empire, and within four centuries, it embraced him. Jesus forgave Peter his denial, and Peter proclaimed his gospel, not only to fellow Jews but to Gentiles. Jesus forgave his disciples for abandoning him, and they told his stories. If religious leaders did in fact play a role in his execution at the hands of Rome, Jesus forgave them too. Jesus also forgave Judas, who repented but could not accept forgiveness.

Jesus healed the devastating paralysis, the unyielding blindness, the disfiguring leprosy, the debilitating fever of lacking mercy. And he healed it with grace.

For those who would like daily readings for this week of Lent, click here and scroll down to the end of the post, “Cosmic Dust.”

Thanks be to God for the life, music, humor, and friendship of Ed McGee, for years our music leader and party organizer for the annual Kirkridge men’s retreat.

Posts relevant to Black History Month (U.S.):

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  1. Thinking about person or events i decide to not or cannot forgive seems like not so much "not forgiving" as forego-ing as in -----those who have been informed that their actions and words are destroying lives refuse to stop those words and actions and keep on---as if they are acting out of love---it seems almost like forgiveness is saying it is ok to keep on doing the hurtful things because it does not matter. I have no doubt that my lack of forgiveness is killing me but if they keep on doing and saying what they are doing, it really doesn't matter.

    1. I don't believe forgiving means we can't hold people accountable, especially if they continue hurting others in the same way. If we forgive from the heart, I believe, we are BETTER able to hold others accountable because we can do so without vengeance and they might be less defensive and more open to changing their ways.

    2. A friend who works with the sexually abused sent me this response, and I thought it should be shared with y'all:

      "I totally get where you are going with forgiveness in response to some things.

      But I urge caution: when survivors hear this message, they just tend to feel guilty for not being spiritually strong enough to “forgive”.

      I’m including an article that I reference frequently that may be of interest

      And Jesus did not forgive from the cross but rather asked God to do so on his behalf. Hmmmmm………."

      To this I responded that this is correct, but asking God to forgive is also a forgiving act.

  2. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott has given me permission to add her comment to me via e-mail:

    Lovely blog, Chris. The major work of our lives is, I believe, to learn how to forgive, and by asking forgiveness for his torturers while they were torturing him, Jesus taught the rest of us to "Teach only love"/i.e., forgiveness, because we human beings never know what we are doing when we are being mean With warm appreciation, Virginia Mollenkott.