The beauty and joy of forgiveness
PROFESSIONS OF FAITH
Hatred is a double-edged sword; it destroys both the one who hates and the one who is hated. The story of Saul’s jealousy and hatred is repeated over and over in history. (1Sam 26:1-15) King Saul was after David to kill him, knowing that David was innocent of any subversion. This was not what God wanted Saul to do. David, on the other hand, did what was pleasing to God; David never claimed the throne of King Saul and rejected suggestions that he kill him because he believed that Saul was God’s anointed king. Therefore, he did not take Saul’s life when he had the opportunity. Through his merciful and forgiving servant David, God saved the life of Saul.
For most of us, showing kindness to others is easier than forgiveness. We find it very difficult to forgive those who hurt us or do wrong to us. Yet, who is the person saved by Jesus? A saved person is the one who loves and forgives, for God is loving and forgiving. We see God’s forgiving nature at the very beginning of Creation when our first parents sinned against Him. Of course, God punished them, but then forgave them, promising to send a Redeemer. He sent his Son to live among us and to teach us how to become like God. Jesus’ life and his teaching were all about forgiveness.
For example, he forgave the adulterous woman whom the Pharisees were about to stone to death, cautioning her to “Go and from now on do not sin anymore.” (John 8:11) He taught his disciples to pray the Our Father, and ask, “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (Lk11;4), suggesting that if we want forgiveness we must ourselves be forgiving. Regarding the servant who refused mercy to the one who could not pay him back, Jesus says, “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” (Mt 18:35) And, “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:23,24)
Those who heard Jesus preaching must have said, as many do today, “Who is this man to dictate the terms of my personal life?” and “Who is he to tell me to love those who hate me, to bless those who curse me, and to pray for those who mistreat me?” (Lk 6:27,28) Knowing that Jesus is God Incarnate, do we as Christians accept his words and practice his teaching by forgiving our enemies?
Even a great man like Gandhi, who admired Jesus and incorporated some of what he preached into his methods, failed when it came to forgiving his enemy. Gandhi fought against the British for the freedom of India, preaching non-violence, an idea he learned from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. While he was an admirer of Jesus, Gandhi remained a Hindu. When he was shot and lay dying, Gandhi uttered the name of his God but never spoke a word of forgiveness for his killer. He could not turn his admiration of Jesus into acceptance of Jesus’ challenge to forgive his enemy. Had Gandhi been a Christian, he would have had no choice but to forgive his murderer before his death.
Jesus even forgave his killers while nailed to the cross they had forced him to carry. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24) He loves all, died for all, and saves all who accept him. Many of Jesus’ believers throughout history followed his example, beginning with St. Stephen the martyr in the first century. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” said Tertullian, the second century Church Father.
Love and forgiveness are not options for Christians; they are a command from Jesus. Forgiveness is the most effective manifestation of God’s love and an effective form of evangelization. Even if you show Christ’s forgiveness to only one person who hurts you or hates, you are a powerful witness to Christ. Once you forgive one person, then it will be easier for you to keep forgiving those who hurt you and those you know to be hurtful. This is the power of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is holiness. Forgiveness is divine. Forgiveness is like hatred in only one way: It is also a double-edged sword: forgiveness heals the one who is hated and also heals the one who hates.
Nothing is said in the Gospels about the future of those to whom Jesus offered forgiveness. However, we can imagine the powerful impact of Jesus’ message through his actions with, for example, the adulteress about to be stoned. Did Jesus cause her to rethink her life, to change completely, perhaps becoming the Mother Theresa of her day? We can only guess. How odd Jesus must have looked to the leaders of his day whose cultural norm was based on “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” How might our society be changed if everyone truly followed Jesus? Think how failing marriages might change if the spouses were generous toward each other with their forgiveness, Divorce would be unimaginable.
So, let us be like David and look toward God’s mercy and forgiveness. And let us incorporate God’s examples of forgiveness into our daily lives toward our fellow man. Let us forgive as Jesus forgave. Let us forgive as David forgave the King Saul for the greater glory of God the Most Holy Trinity.
Through our giving and forgiving, we become like God.
Our giving and forgiving are pleasing sacrifices to God.
Our giving and forgiving make God’s presence within us.
Our giving and forgiving make God’s presence between us.
Our giving and forgiving make God’s presence among us.
Our giving and forgiving make us sharers of God’s eternal glory.
Fr. Jayaseelan Amalanathan is from Chennai, South India, now working as the Parochial Vicar for the parishes of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Lewistown and St. Jude church, Mifflintown. Continuing the ministry of Jesus Christ for 29 years, he spent his ministry in India toward the uplift of the most deprived and marginalized people and was awarded in the year 2015, the title of ‘Doctor of Divinity’ (Honoris Causa) by the Academy of Ecumenical Indian Theology and Church Administration.