And to be honest, it’s all a bit absurd! Who could seriously be convinced to forgive those who have abused them, cheated them and caused them more misery than anyone else could imagine? But there it is! That is precisely what Jesus is suggesting! Jesus is claiming that no matter how great our sin…no matter how far we have strayed from goodness and kindness we are all redeemable, all forgivable and all loved by God. But, make no mistake about it, it is in no way giving us “a pass” on reprehensible and sinful behavior! It is really speaking of the possibility of transformation and redemption through the power of forgiveness!
We've seen it in South Africa… we've seen it in Kosovo…and we've seen it in the lives of thousands of nameless victims who have chosen to forgive their perpetrators of unspeakable atrocities and crimes! How is it possible to forgive those who have raped, murdered and destroyed the lives of innocent people? Forgiveness does not in any way imply a lack of guilt…but rather it is about refusing to allow the perpetrator to continue to inflict pain and suffering upon those they have abused. As long as our anger and rage control our emotions we are not free of our bondage to them! The violent need to be brought to “justice” and to pay for their sins, but true justice is not revenge! Forgiveness ultimately frees the victim from the clutches of the perpetrator…it in no way says “it didn't happen”…it in no way says “it didn't matter”…it in no ways says “they are not guilty”.
So what does this all mean for us as disciples of Jesus Christ? Jesus was so kind and forgiving…but how are we to forgive those who are guilty of unspeakable sin? How do we forgive those who wound us and hurt us and the ones we love? Jesus clearly states that it is “Godly” to forgive. But that in no way means that we do not stand up against violence! It does not mean that we fall silent in the face of violence nor turn our back on seeking justice in the wake of violence…not vengeance but justice. How do we forgive those who are guilty of violence, especially when it impacts us personally…when it is done in our name or in the name of our church, or in the name of our country?
As you can see, it is not so easy…do we really believe in the transformative reality of forgiveness? Who am I called to forgive? How do I deal with forgiveness for those guilty of truly atrocious crimes? What do I personally, and we as a nation, need to be forgiven for? How do we forgive and demand “justice” at the same time?