There is no more central concept to the Christian Faith than Reconciliation. The necessity for forgiveness from God and the mandate from God for forgiveness of fellow human beings resides in the heart of the Gospel. But if meditating on and acting toward forgiveness and the various needs we have forgiving or being forgiven is one of the most fruitful ways to deepen our faith as believers in Jesus why is it so difficult? So confusing? Why does it require such intense scrutiny of our intentions, decisions and actions?
I posed a question to one of my younger family members early in the Lenten season about whether he thought forgiving someone else was more difficult than asking someone for forgiveness. The discussion that ensued with this remarkably thoughtful adolescent provided me with some days of reflection on the culture that we all swim in.
He suggested that forgiveness runs the risk of turning into a
power issue. Who is up and who is down. The “victim” or “martyr”
mentality encourages those who have suffered oppression, indignity or even
personal slight to hang on to their pain and suffering as a counter weapon
of domination. On the other side of the relationship coin, the too ready
willingness to “forgive” may also be an exercise of dominating power by asserting
the “high ground” over some of those “blind mice” that don’t even know they
need to be forgiven. Seeking forgiveness may be about seeking healing
or it may be about short-circuiting my load of responsibility to remedy situations.
Seeking forgiveness may not be genuine, and may be a way to re-establish
an unhealthy relationship in order to continue predatory behavior.
Because the ethos of forgiveness is so strong in the Christian message this
kind of abusive behavior trades on gross misunderstandings of the real nature
of reconciliation and can thrive among persons who do not have healthy images
of God or self.
Combining the factor of forgiveness’s necessity in sustaining
human community, with the factor of human penchant for doing harm toward fellows,
it should not be surprising that that we can and do corrupt the very concept
of forgiveness – turning it into a weapon to further offend and oppress from
any relational direction. Recognizing this we echo Paul’s cry in Romans:
“Who will rescue us?” and again, his response: “Thanks be to God for our
Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!”
The first reading from the liturgy today demonstrates a way to ask for forgiveness and support: trust that God loves me, acknowledge that I am NOT God (i.e. in control) and therefore need God’s mercy; and then allow God to be and to do whatever God deems is necessary and appropriate in any moment of existence – even in the midst of the hottest crisis possible – as it seems Azariah was, speaking from the heart of the fire. This model also works when seeking forgiveness from sisters or brothers that we have harmed or offended. We ask genuine forgiveness with the expectation that there may be some indebtedness to rectify by future behavior, and we allow them the freedom to enact forgiveness or not as they are capable of doing. Finally we are truly grateful when forgiveness is extended.
The Gospel reading provides the very powerful measure of authenticity
for our own extension of forgiveness when we are the victims of harm: recognize
clearly what we have received from God’s mercy and then behave in like manner.
What God has done, so we must do. When we wield forgiveness as a weapon
to harm others it is most often because we have not been able to receive or
even to perceive what God has been and is now doing far more dramatically
to forgive us.
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