As We Forgive!
When in the world did asking for or offering forgiveness become a sign of weakness?
Today the country has a leading presidential candidate who wears as a badge of honor the fact that he has never asked God for forgiveness. The country seems to espouse a foreign policy rooted in stereotyping, prejudice, revenge, retribution, and vituperation. Often as a nation we respond to dangers real or imagined with the kind of overkill that sees the suffering of the innocent merely as “collateral damage.”
People who have suffered at the hand of another are quite certain that they can gain that illusive sense of closure only by seeing the wrongdoer punished or even (in extreme cases) executed.
Perhaps we have retaliation in our DNA. For example, if a friend of mine hurts or snubs me, I want to return the favor. If somebody gets a promotion or a raise that I think I deserved, I try to tear that person down. If something goes wrong, if my dreams don’t come true, if I suffer a loss, I want to be awarded damages. I want to get what I think is mine even at the expense of someone else.
We seem to think that withholding forgiveness and never admitting the need for forgiveness are signs of strength. Rugged individualism is defined by our ability to judge others harshly—even rashly. The cowboy attitude that is so deeply engrained in our culture gives us leave to “shoot first and ask questions later.”
When such behavior is translated to the public square or to political activity, nothing is accomplished. Self-righteousness, arrogance, and attributing wrong-headed or even evil motives to others kill compromise. While compromise is lying dead on the floor, people’s real needs are ignored. Arguing and debate are important in governing others, but bull-headed filibusters do no one any good.
This coming Sunday, we get one of the most powerful Gospel demonstrations that giving and receiving forgiveness take great strength. We are going to hear again the familiar and yet so little understood parable of the Prodigal Son.
Tax collectors and sinners who were hanging on his every word surrounded Jesus. Nearby, public officials whispered in disdain that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them. Their whispers unleashed Jesus’ lesson in forgiveness.
A young man separated himself from his family. He squandered his inheritance. He became homeless and hungry. He saw his only hope in a return to his father and begging for forgiveness. His father saw him coming and raced to meet him—welcoming him and forgiving him in a warm embrace.
I am sure that most of us—even most government officials, candidates, and pundits—know the story all too well. Its real message, however, never makes it into daily life, into governance or, into commerce.
The generous mercy of God is also expressed in the New Testament reading for Sunday:
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,
not counting their trespasses against them
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
So we are ambassadors for Christ,
as if God were appealing through us.
We implore you on behalf of Christ,
be reconciled to God.
For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin,
so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
2 Corinthians 5:20-22
Any public official who is convinced that forgiving is all about weakness might think for a moment on what Jesus did. He had been falsely accused, arrested, tortured, abused, and condemned to death. Gasping his last in pain, he summoned enough strength to say, “Father, forgive them!”