A Proactive Approach to Forgiveness
Are we aware of the power that our words and actions can have on the lives of other people? Have we ever found ourselves saying to someone: “I will never forgive you.” Have we ever wished someone would say to us: “I forgive you.”
Jesus knew that one of the hardest things for people to deal with is hurt – either physical or mental or spiritual. We can’t always be right. We can’t always get our own way. We can’t always be perfect, but we can seek to bring peace, healing, and restoration to all our relationships. We may not be successful, but we need to try. And when we try, it is not to be just once but over and over again seeking the assistance of others to help us if need be until the time has come that we can find no way for the relationship to be restored.
As Christians, we profess faith in a God of love, a God of mercy, a God who forgives and restores. If this is the God we profess, then this needs to be the person that we pattern our life by. People often find words to be hollow and that actions carry more weight.
The apostle James – whose work was dismissed because it was thought he was suggesting that we are saved by works and not faith – was trying to impress upon the people that to simply pray or say a blessing for a person with no thought or concern for the condition of the person was of little or no effect.
The fellowship of believers were encouraged to remember the words of Jesus who counted true followers as not those who knew the right words and said the right prayers but those whose actions revealed that they didn’t just intellectually understand the faith but that they understood it to the point that they actually lived it.
Remember that for the Hebrew people there is no separation between body and spirit. God revealed to them that they were created not in pieces but as a whole. By times we have been so caught up with the Greek and Roman way of viewing the world that we forget that we cannot separate or compartmentalize who we are or who someone else is. And so, for the people to whom Jesus was speaking and for all of us who believe in the revelations and teachings of this God, we cannot isolate our hurt to just our mind of our body or our spirit. When one part of us is hurt, we hurt everywhere.
Today it is recognized that depression is not just a disease of the mind but that it also is a very physical ailment. When people are depressed, they suffer in many ways. This realization points even more to the fact that our parts are interconnected. We cannot suffer in spirit or mind or body in isolation from the other parts. And so, when we cause hurt or pain to another person, or someone causes hurt or pain to us, the words that are used and the actions that are taken may do more harm than first we may see.
If we strike a blow against someone, we may damage the body. But repeated violence may also damage the mind and eventually the spirit. If we speak in a harmful or malicious way to someone, we may cause distress to their mind or spirit but continue down that path and we may find that they begin to suffer physically as well. It is not just an excuse when someone will tell you they are tired of being hurt.
Each of us has been in that situation in one way or another. We cannot have lived this long without suffering something at some time. And each of us has put someone else in that situation and caused suffering. It is part of the human condition. Jesus never expects such things not to happen, but He is concerned that we consciously seek to set things right.
That is the real goal of the passage found in Matthew’s gospel today.
First we are encouraged to speak with one another when an offence has occurred. We are to attempt to work out our issues with one another and seek for reconciliation. The goal is to restore the relationship that we have as fellow believers and so come again to live in harmony with one another. If we are not successful in this attempt, we are to find one or two others who are willing to go with us to speak to the person with whom we have an issue and seek to resolve it with the presence of witnesses. The hope is that the truth of what happened between the two persons can be found and reconciliation happen. If that cannot happen, the person is encouraged to come and involve the whole community.
Oftentimes people are unaware of how their words or actions have affected another person. The offended party is not to go off the deep end and rail at the other person about how they have been offended but rather to go and speak with them about it. Jesus is encouraging dialogue. He is advising us not to let hurts fester and grow but to deal with them so that they do not become mountains instead of molehills.
But there is a flip side to this. We will not always be the one who has been offended or hurt. We need to be prepared to be the one who has been seen as causing the hurt. And if we recognize this, then it is hoped that when someone has the courage to speak to us that we will have the compassion and mercy to listen and be willing to acknowledge the situation and make amends.
Remember what I said about the authority given to Peter to bind and to loosen. We hear these words again. But we need to be conscious that whatever we choose to bind against others may also be bound against us. I am sure that Jesus intended it only to be used in cases where someone’s heart and mind are so hard that nothing can penetrate. And in that case the person may choose to leave the community of their own volition.
When there is strife and conflict, there are no winners just losers. When we cannot find ways to be reconciled to each other, we all suffer.
We will not always get everything right for everyone all the time. We will have our differences. Will we choose to have the courage to speak to one another and to seek to resolve issues with one another and so release the hurt or will we choose to hold on to our hurts and so prevent ourselves and others from experiencing forgiveness and healing?