The Second Sunday after Pentecost

I didn’t remember the incident at all. I had no neurons recalling rudeness or being treated with disrespect. I couldn’t even summon up emotional memory of hurt or frustration or even anger. Nothing. Zilch. The only evidence that something did occur to me and that I was treated wrongly was a stack of letters from school students who had obviously been made to write to me about their behaviour and apologise for it. It was a classroom-school situation and I was there as a school governor doing something ‘extra’ with them, helping them. I dare say most of the students are now parents themselves of children some of whom might be just about reaching high school age! 

I’ve been in classrooms for many years and my guess is that I didn’t take whatever happened personally – though I imagine I might have been annoyed that poor behaviour by some would affect the experience of everyone (me included). And yet I’m not totally forgetful as I can remember much older incidents where people were rude or hurtful to me but as these incidents come to mind I notice much more my bad behaviour in the past; things I regret; things about which I am ashamed.

Our lives are the accumulation of the days we live and the experiences we have. A significant part of ‘who we are’ involves the relationships we have and what happens in them – the good we want more of – the bad we want to minimise – and ‘bad’ includes rudeness, arrogance, selfishness, abuse, violence, and so much more. To deal with the ‘bad’ we might resort to justice, to revenge, to cutting off (the ‘bad’ person), and there is the possibility of forgiveness.

The world, it seems to me, has discovered forgiveness. I often hear it encouraged because it is the best thing a person can do for themselves when they have been wronged. It is described as putting distance between you and the perpetrator and taking power away from them and choosing your behaviour no longer based on them. It is seen as reframing the event so you can move on.

Christian forgiveness is and isn’t what the world says. Yes, forgiveness is a powerful choice and it can be a ‘moving on’. Yes, it can lead to amnesia because you are no longer dwelling on what has happened because forgiveness has broken the past event to impact the present. But what is additional in Christian forgiveness is the desire to reconcile, to seek the well-being of the one who has hurt you, because you bear the cost of this forgiveness, this mercy, this grace, this undeserved gift you have given to the one who has hurt you. This is the forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ. This is the forgiveness of Jesus on the cross. This is the heart of God and the heart of the Gospel!

We pray daily about and for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer precisely because it is not easy and it is not a formula – a mechanical procedure – designed to keep us safe but it is faith active in love when we have been sinned against and when we have sinned. We want those who have hurt us and those whom we have hurt to be ‘restored’. How that actually happens is personal and very often a process (often long term) but forgiveness is at the heart of our discipleship. If God has forgiven us when we didn’t deserve it – and he has in Christ – we work each day at forgiving others – not for our sake but for the well being of another person who doesn’t deserve it.