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Forgiveness is Not an Option

Forgiveness is not an option. Holding onto a grudge is not acceptable for a Christian. If you have a choice to drink poison or to harbor angry thoughts, take the poison first. Anger and bitterness are far more toxic. We must be ruthless, ruthless with determination, to search our hearts for any trace of unforgiveness. We must become free.

Corrie ten Boom and her sister were sent to Ravensbruck, the Nazi Concentration Camp. They had hid Jewish refugees in their home and were sentenced to a life behind bars. Her sister died in the camp, but Corrie was freed. After the war, she travelled the world and preached the gospel. On one occassion, she spoke about forgiveness. The talk was over. She was going home, when a man stepped up to her:

“Fraulein, how good it is to know that our sins are at the bottom of the sea. You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk. I was a guard there, but since then I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things that I had done there, but I wanted to come to you personally and ask: Will you forgive me?”

The world spun. She felt the floor giving way. Shaking, she lifted up her hand. It was the hardest thing she had ever done. She looked him in the eyes. She took his hand in hers. “I forgive you brother, with all of my heart.”

Christ came to set us free. Can we accept that?

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity” (Luke 10: 30-33).

The Samaritan saw his enemy, and he loved him. Think about all of your hurts. Who has offended you? Who comes up in your heart, in the lonely hours at night, when you are tossing in bed? Who boils your blood? The one thought, “I was wronged.” The one feeling, “I hope he gets what he deserves.” Stop right there. Look at that thought. This is where we have to get to work. Will we harbor the thoughts, nurse them, cherish them? Will we justify them? Or will we give them to God and ask for healing?

“Help me, Lord, to forgive.”

The Samaritan had been hurt too. His were a rejected people. He and his family were hated. They were despised, the untouchables. They did not choose to be born as Samaritans. They did not merit the hate. They were victims of cruel racism from the Jews, and here, on the road was his enemy. Indeed, his enemy was beat up. Perhaps, like Corrie ten Boom, something in his heart fought back. It was his moment for revenge. No one would have expected the Samaritan to care for this enemy. By all social standards, he had every reason to smile and walk on. But he did not.

“Having seen him, he was moved with compassion” (Luke 10: 30-33).

Why is forgiveness so important?

“If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14).

Christ reveals this in the “Our Father.” We pray it every day, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our relationship with one another is a mirror of our relationship with God. When we refuse to forgive those who hurt us, we block ourselves from God’s forgiveness. We lock ourselves in a sort of prison, the prison called “Me” and no one, not even God, can liberate us. When we forgive those around us, then our hearts opens our opened to God’s torrential love.

Christ tells us to make forgiveness our first objective, even before approaching the altar. “If you are offering your gift at the altar,” he says, “and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). We cannot take this scripture seriously enough. We have to love one another, everyone, indeed, especially the people who have most wronged us. If we do not, all our religion is vain.

Forgiveness is Paradise. Fr. David Freeman puts it this way: “The question of forgiveness is not a moral issue. We do not forgive because it is the “correct” thing to do. We forgive because it is the true nature of the life in Christ. As Dostoevsky describes it: it is Paradise. In the same manner, the refusal to forgive, the continuation of blame, recrimination, bitterness, etc., are not moral failings. They are existential crises – drawing us away from the life of Christ and Paradise, and ever deeper into an abyss of non-being.”

Forgiveness is not a thing you need to do. Forgiveness is the life in Jesus Christ.

Another priest discovered the urgency to forgive in his old age. As he prepared for death, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom wrote a number of letters to friends. He urged his spiritual children to examine their soul for any sign of unforgiveness. Prepare for death “through a stern and liberating process of coming to terms with life, making one’s peace with everyone, with oneself, with one’s conscience, with one’s circumstances, with the present and the past, with events and with people, and indeed with the future, the coming of death itself,” he wrote. “One cannot enter into eternity tied and fettered by hatred.”

How can we forgive? This is why we come to church. It is the saddest tragedy when people leave churches because of hurt. We misunderstand the whole point. We come to church to learn how to forgive. This is a hard lesson. It is when someone hurts you that your faith can grow. It is when you are slighted, that you have an opportunity to let church change you. That is precisely when all the religion can sink into your heart. It is a precious gift, truly, the moment your ego is hurt, and you can learn to be a little bit more like Christ. If you pass the test, your faith becomes real.

“Ite Missa Est.”

We sing this every Sunday. “Behold, the Mass.” The very name of the Mass tells us forgiveness is the point of Christianity. We “mass” together. We come together, with all our baggage and shortcomings, and in the act of learning to forgive and love, we are healed.

“Having seen him, he was moved with compassion” (Luke 10: 30-33).

ἰδὼν ἐσπλαγχνίσθη

Two words in Greek — it sums up what you and I need to do.

Iδὼν: He saw the man. He saw through his wrongs. He saw past his assumptions and racial hatred. He did not see his enemy anymore. He simply saw a fellow human being: a person, a brother. When someone hurts us we need to step back and see the person behind the sin.

Eσπλαγχνίσθη: He was convicted in his gut. He was moved with compassion. He looked at his enemy and saw the image of God, and he loved him.

“He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Luke 10:4).

Christ promises us peace. We find peace when we find forgiveness. May our Lord reveal to us every hurt, every feeling of injustice, all our anger, and give us strength to forgive. Amen.


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