Enjoy your forgiveness
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.-Matthew 6: 12
Earlier this year, a good friend and spiritual advisor went to be with Jesus. It was always his life goal to be close to Jesus, but I do miss him. He was a great person and a quite successful ad guy. In addition to the award-winning creative work he did for his agency, he lent his talents to churches and non-profits, furthering their missions with wit and wisdom. He did this kind of work for his church in Manhattan. As they charted a course forward through a strategic planning process, he and his team came up with a tagline for the church. The tagline? “Enjoy your forgiveness.” I think of my buddy often, and especially thought of him when we came to this line in the Lord’s Prayer which has to do with forgiveness.
What do you make of it? When it comes to forgiveness, do you think there’s a quid pro quo here? Will we only be forgiven if we forgive others? We can read the prayer that way. Jesus told parables that seemed to warn of forgiveness withheld to folks who had themselves received forgiveness but had denied it to others. I’ll have to admit that such an interpretation makes me a little uneasy. I know there are folks I find really hard to forgive. Some folks I don’t want to forgive. The injury they inflicted actually helps shape my identity. I hang on to the injury. I can get comfortable with that brand of victimhood.
Maybe Jesus’ prayer is more descriptive than prescriptive. Maybe Jesus is not saying “You better forgive or else.” Maybe he’s describing something true about forgiveness, that if we really embrace the fact that we have been forgiven, it will be as natural as the sun coming up to forgive others. We’ll recognize how foolish and unproductive it is to withhold forgiveness, to savor resentments. We’ll see what a waste of mental and spiritual real estate it is to refuse to forgive. Mark Twain put it this way: “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”
Here’s the deal, as I see it. Everybody has a need to be forgiven, by God and by other people. Each day, I fall short of loving God with whole heart and soul and mind. Each day, I fall short of loving neighbor as self. Sometimes that’s true even before my feet hit the floor when I wake up.
And everybody has a need to extend forgiveness. We all have been done wrong, by those we love the most and those who don’t like us much at all. We all have been done wrong by family members, co-workers, clergy and congregants. You get the idea.
And everybody has a need to seek forgiveness. We’ve all inflicted injury on others, wittingly or unwittingly. We may have blocked out the awareness of those interactions, but they are there.
To sum up, we’re all in this together.
So how does this part of the Lord’s Prayer shape not only our belief, but our way of life in the world? How might it guide us this week? I suspect it begins by getting in touch with the amazing grace that we have been forgiven. As Rob Bell says, “There’s nothing we can do to make God love us less.” Sounds a lot like St. Paul, who said in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Spend some time this week thinking about the fact that whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been, whoever you are, you are on the receiving end of God’s love. Forgiveness is available in abundant supply. Amazing.
And if and when that sinks in (sometimes I don’t or won’t or can’t realize it), think about just one way you can extend forgiveness. Think about one person to whom you can extend forgiveness, in your heart, and maybe in conversation with them. And once you’ve done that, ask God to bless that person. Then move on to somebody else (at your own pace). If that’s hard to do, maybe think about the ways others have forgiven under extreme circumstances. I have in mind the forgiveness in evidence in South Africa after apartheid, or among the Amish after children were shot, or in Charleston after that horrific attack on a bible study. Or maybe at the foot of the cross where Jesus extends forgiveness to his executioners.
When it comes to forgiveness, it’s easy to think it’s all about guilt and judgment, shame and shortcoming. Maybe we can shift and see forgiveness as path to freedom, indeed something to enjoy. As Desmond Tutu said, there’s no future without forgiveness. Maybe we can enjoy forgiving others as much as we can enjoy having been forgiven. What would life look like this week if we simply celebrated forgiveness?