As we drove into Paris for church yesterday, we passed the long rippling flags indicating Montrouge where there was a killing three days ago. We passed cavalcades of policemen mobilising for the manifestation that would take place in Paris later that day, and which would eventually assemble 1.5 million people. We were then stopped at the hotel entrance where we meet by a gentleman wanting to scan us for weapons.
I wrote about the initial reactions here The Threat Stemming from Charlie Hebdo, from the point of view of a mom living in France. It was all anyone could think about or talk about. And even if we had wanted to put the trauma behind us, this fresh evidence of potential danger and discontent made it impossible.
It was helpful to get a spiritual perspective to the events that happened this week. In the welcome message, a friend shared the range of emotions she felt as one thing led to another. She discovered that one of the terrorists lived a quarter of a mile from her. She shared about the pain and sadness she felt, her pride over the French – and even worldwide – solidarity that was expressed, and her admiration for the swiftness of the police force. And she finished (more seamlessly than I can sum up here – really, it was beautiful) by reminding us that our hope is not on earth, and with a reminder that we are called to love our enemies.
Loving our enemies requires forgiveness, and it is not a platitude handed out by Jesus to accompany a cute little parable. Jesus was very clear that this is a requirement for being with God in heaven:
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15). I don’t think you can say it more explicitly than that. If you forgive others, you will be forgiven. If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven.
Jesus elaborates on the theme here:
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35)
The simple truth is, no matter what someone did to you, it cannot compare to what your sins did to Jesus. Even the worst atrocity done to you or your loved one is a hundred silver coins of debt compared to the ten thousand bags of gold that you owe God.
Why? Well, I think part of the answer lies in the mystery of God’s nature, and that His thoughts are not our thoughts. It’s hard to grasp how offensive our sins are to a holy God, and the magnitude of his love in redeeming us through a humiliating sacrifice.
But it’s also something rather concrete. God came down to earth to walk among us in the flesh. He gave up everything comfortable and holy to live with sinners, and to redeem us even before we had turned our lives around – while we were still his enemies. He went to the extreme of dying for us, so great was his love.
So if we, in turn, spew murderous hatred against someone who has hurt or offended us (no matter how grievously), “I hope you burn in hell!” … well … the sad truth is, they probably will. If they didn’t have a chance to repent of their sins, they probably will end up in hell. But if, rather than weeping over their eternal separation from God, we cry out, “Good! It’s no less than you deserve!” than we do not resemble God in the least. We are nothing like him. He will say, “I never knew you.”
Yes it was a huge victory that the terrorists were stopped, and they will have to face God’s wrath for their sins. But the scriptures also tell me that God weeps for them. He remembers what they were like when they were helpless and depended on a mother’s milk to survive, when they were just learning to walk, when they were innocent and curious, before they were taken captive to sin.
Oh, regarding this past week’s events and the atrocities committed, how can anyone talk about forgiveness? I certainly cannot preach about forgiveness because I have no right to do so. Boko Haram has not razed my village to the ground, killing everyone I know and loved in the world. My father was not murdered because he acted on his rights to free speech. I was not overlooked for a new position because I wear a head-scarf. My husband is not in danger of going to the supermarket because he has a kippah on his head. My child is not mistrusted because of the colour of his skin and his choice to wear a hooded sweatshirt. My husband has not left me for another woman. I was not gang-raped. My family was not terrorised and held captive …
I could go on.
But Jesus had much to say about forgiveness; he was categoric about its importance, and he spoke as one who had every right to do so.
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”
(Jesus) took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.
Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with (the religious leaders): “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”
But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”
Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.
The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”
“He is worthy of death,” they answered.
Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?” The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” And they said many other insulting things to him.
While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” **
For Jesus, there is never ever a good enough excuse not to forgive.
** These scriptures are all direct quotes, which are pulled from Matthew 26 & 27 and Luke 22 & 23. They are mostly in chronological order, but are not complete, and the verses are intermingled between the two books of the Bible. If you’ve never read the crucifixion story, you can read the complete version in those chapters listed above, as well as Mark 14-15 and John 18-19. Matthew, John, and most likely Mark are eye-witness accounts, and Luke wrote about it second-hand after interviewing many people who were there.
A final word. I will be offline completely until next Monday to try and recover from carpal tunnel. I’m afraid to do permanent damage. If there are comments to be moderated (first time commenters) they probably won’t get approved until then (unless I can get my antiquated iPhone to work).
Photo Credit: 123rf