Forgive Them Today

I was with a genuine saint the other day who told me she was having a problem forgiving someone. I was a little surprised, given her maturity, but I guess I was also encouraged, figuring, if at her age and stage of maturity she still needs to grow, I guess I shouldn’t get so discouraged when my rough edges come out in obvious ways almost every day.

I spoke yesterday on Luke 23:32-43, “There They Crucified Him.” It would be an understatement to say that this passage contains four words that changed all of history, “There they crucified him.”

But there is something else in Luke’s account that relates to our almost universal struggle with forgiveness. Jesus only speaks twice in this crucifixion scene, and both times it is about forgiveness. Taken together they remind us of an elementary truth about forgiveness.

First, Jesus teaches us by example to extend forgiveness before it is asked for. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

The phrase “they know not what they do” fascinates me, because Jesus surely understood that at least his religious adversaries know something of what they were doing. They had opposed him almost from the start of his public ministry, because he revealed their hypocrisy and exposed the crusty shell of tradition that was suppressing the vibrant roots of Jewish faith.

I think Jesus is saying that at the deepest level of human consciousness, we really do not know what we are doing. As one who, based on my family’s observation, remains in an almost constant state of relational cluelessness, this comforts me (but does not excuse me.)

But Jesus is also reminding us that forgiveness starts in our hearts, not in the heart of the one who needs to seek our forgiveness. Hanging on to our anger and bitterness only hurts us. This is what Anne Lamott meant when she observed, “not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”

Jesus forgave before he was asked for forgiveness, but asking was still important as we learn from the two thieves. One “hurled insults at Jesus, saying, “Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”The other rebuked the first criminal saying,  “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

He then turned to Jesus and essentially asked for forgiveness. “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’”

Jesus response to the criminal restores the relationship. “43 Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’”

So here we have an essential lesson. We release our pain when we forgive even when it is not asked for. However, the relationship is not restored until the other party asks forgiveness. When both parties seek and give forgiveness it is possible for them to again “be with each other.”

Posted in Staublog in March 28, 2011 by | 1 Comment »

One Response to Forgive Them Today

  1. 032811 | Dick Staub on March 28, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    […] I’ve been thinking about what Anne Lamott meant when she observed, “not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” Read more. […]

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