How hard is it for you to forgive someone?
When I ask myself that question I immediately start to qualify– well, what did they do? Is it is my family, my friend, someone I don’t really know? We often associate the ease of forgiveness with the severity of the offence or the level of intimacy of the relationship, but in the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus makes no such distinction.
“…how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
I was asked recently to imagine what the world would be like if the Church had only maintained the tenant of forgiveness (especially to one’s enemy) as its core teaching for the last 2000 years. Sadly, once an underdog moves to the top, as was the case when Christianity was officially adopted by the Roman Empire and used as a means of control and identity across Europe (313 AD), it becomes almost impossible to hear Jesus’ teachings of forgiveness. The Church neglected to teach the loving and non-violent message from the Sermon on the Mount, favoring instead much of the stone laws of the Old Testament. We shifted away from bringing about the Kingdom of God here and now in this life (as Jesus instructed) and instead made everything about preparing for the next life, and most certainly how to use fear and shame to illicit obedience.
How far have we really come from those dark ages of spiritual co-dependence and fear mongering? How much have we really matured from the times when wars were waged in the name of religion, in the name of God? What would this world be like if we had been teaching this Gospel message? What would this country be like if those who claim the ministry of Jesus had been, from the beginning, sharing the message of forgiveness. Thank God for our Quaker and Mennonite brothers and sisters who did indeed hold this in high value. How much could we learn from them?
I do not claim to have mastered the practice of forgiveness, but I am convinced it is one of the most important steps to salvation, or higher consciousness. In it’s action lies the central point of all great spirituality… learning to let go— learning to unshackle yourself from the burden of suffering, from the illusion of separation, from the sting of death itself.
In this time where a cold civil war rages in this country, I believe reclaiming the wisdom of forgiveness is the Churches greatest challenge and it’s most important responsibility. And each of us carry that same calling to forgive “from your heart” as Jesus says, and that same invitation into the Kingdom, here and now. Thank God we are given countless opportunities to practice each and every day.