4 Sunday Lent C 2013
A sign on a convent in Southern Californiaread: Absolutely No Trespassing- Violators Will Be Prosecuted to the Full Extent of the Law.
Signed, The Sisters of Mercy.
Mercy is often seen as a sign of weakness, of going soft or being overly permissive.It seems to allow the guilty to get away with their offense. We may even think that mercy is not fair. We might appreciate being on the receiving end of mercy, but are less enthusiastic about extending it to others.
The elder brother knew that his father's heart was breaking over his missing son. Why had he not gone out in search of his brother if for no other reason than to give joy to his father? The elder brother is of course a type for our selves, whom we understand well. He had absolutely no sympathy for his brother. There is something disturbing within us. There is a part of us that gives considerable credibility to the elder son. He’s been the good one, working to support his father. Why shouldn’t he be upset that his brother, who caused his father so much pain, should return and be welcomed so warmly? There is something within us that wants to shout, “Good riddance to bad rubbish.” We might even question the actions of the Father, thinking that he caused the heartache by giving in to the brat. Now he was going overboard in welcoming him home. Some part of us wants to say real people would never do that. That’s the part of us that thinks we have a right to hold a grudge
But our God responds wholeheartedly to those who sincerely plea for mercy. There is no sin that our heavenly Father can not forgive, no matter how serious. The truth is all sin is a debt that we cannot pay. It is a word spoken in anger or falsehood; an act of irreverence or injustice. It cannot be taken back. It is irrevocable. It might upon reflection influence my future relations but it can only be forgiven not repaired.
If I refuse to forgive those who have sinned against me, who gets hurt?
I do. I remain a miserable, bitter person lacking joy in my life. When I see or think of the person who has harmed me, I want them to feel the pain they caused me. I want revenge.
Jack Kornfield, aleading Buddhist teacher, says that, meanwhile, “The person who betrayed you is sunning herself on a beach in Hawaiiand you're knotted up in hatred. Who is suffering?”
In order to experience salvation from the imprisonment of self-pity, I must ask for the grace of God to forgive those who have harmed me or I will forever be tortured by anger, bitterness and resentment.
- Not forgiving, staying in bitterness, anger, hostility, is like drinking a cup of poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Two prisoners of war were released to return home. One said to the other, "Have you forgiven our captors?" "I'll NEVER forgive them!" the second one replied. "They still have you in prison then, don't they?"
Jack Kornfield tells a story of a woman who attended the trial of a 14-year old gang member who had murdered her teenage son in a drive-by shooting. As the boy was being taken out of the courtroom after sentencing, she coldly looked him in the eye and said, "I'll kill you for what you've done."
Several months later, the woman began visiting the boy in prison, taking him cigarettes or magazines, sitting and talking. Over the next few years she became a regular visitor for this young man who had no one else. As the time approached for him to be released, she asked where he was going to go, what he was going to do. No clue. Through a relative she lined up a job for him. Then proposed, "You don't have anyone in this world to look after you. You killed my boy. I don't have anyone at home to take care of. Why don't you stay with me for awhile and see how it works out?" The boy accepted. Eventually the woman decided to adopt him, saying, "I told you that day in court that I would kill you. Well, I have. The boy that killed my son no longer exists. He's no longer alive on this earth. You couldn't kill anyone now the way you did then. Now you can live with me in that boy's place."
Forgiveness is a process; it's not a one-shot deal. It's a daily and lifelong practice to move through layers and layers of hurt and grief and re-open the heart to compassion and kindness.
Henri Nouwen says; “Forgiving the other is first and foremost an inner movement. It is an act that removes anger, bitterness and the desire for revenge from our hearts and helps us to reclaim our human dignity. We cannot force those we want to forgive into accepting forgiveness. They might not be able or willing to do so. They may not even know or feel that they have wounded us. The only people we can really change are ourselves. Forgiving others is first and foremost healing our own hearts.”
We must begin to cultivate a willingness to let go of our personal suffering, and our identities as victims. It's so easy to go into complaining, criticism, contempt. We must not deny our pain, but not linger either. Forgiveness, on one hand, is not condoning, forgetting, or appeasement. We're not indifferent, but we're not stuck either. We must re-claim our larger self, that leads to compassion for ourselves, and eventually to compassion for others who have acted in misguided or harmful ways.
The Dalai Lama who, when asked if he could ever forgive the Chinese for their military occupation of Tibetand systematic destruction of Tibetan monasteries and culture, replied "They've already taken my country. Why should I let them have my mind, too?"
The capacity for forgiveness is anchored deeply within us. We must remember that we, and all beings, are "nobly born." In spite of personal threat and drama, we can be in touch with a calmness and from there we can forgive. Never does the human soul appear so strong as when it foregoes revenge, and dares forgive an injury. - E. H. Chapin
The party must be thrown with friends and neighbors? I’m sure the younger son experienced utter gratitude. Were there tears? Have we failed to grasp or appreciate the forgiveness of God toward us? Have we failed to forgive others because we fail to realize the generous and loving forgiveness of God? Would we ever fail to forgive another if we, for only a moment, could fully appreciate the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father?
You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you
and feel the power to wish them well. - Lewis B. Smedes
“The appeal that we make in Christ’s name is this: be reconciled to God.”