The Third Sunday in Lent in the LCC lectionary brings us to the story of the woman taken in adultery from John 8. The woman is to be stoned for her offense, but then Jesus speaks to the gathered crowd: He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her. This week we are challenged to grow in our understanding of others, as well as deepening our understanding of our own weaknesses, so that forgiveness may come to characterize our lives.
The epistle (from 1 Peter 3) urges us: Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another. Further, not rendering evil for evil, railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing… I have often been helped in this endeavor by remembering what Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said: If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each person’s life suffering and sorrow enough to disarm all our hostility. While such understanding does not excuse hurtful actions, it can change the way we respond. And surely we all hope that God, the true knower of hearts, understands the pain in our own secret histories.
A few days ago, Rev Jack (www.revjack.com) posted a comment on Chris Tessone’s blog about his church discussion group and forgiveness:
And booooooy howdy, is Forgiveness the crux of all our issues! I didn’t tell them they should hold any particular stance towards forgiveness (in fact I explicitly said the opposite–saying that one MUST forgive or SHOULD forgive just turns forgiveness into another nuance of judgment, rather than an absolution from judgment); instead I just let people speak about what it meant to them. And I was quite surprised to see how nearly everyone in the room stopped short at self-sacrificial forgiveness. The consent seemed to be that if future harm could be prevented, then forgiveness was acceptable, mostly to keep the forgiver from being devoured by their need for vengeance. That’s all fine and good, but when I suggested that forgiveness might involve the forgiver “taking a hit,” the defensive panic in the room was palpable. (Read the whole thing at http://chris.tessone.net/2007/03/06/forgiveness-and-resistance/)
Also this week, a friend told me a story about two congregations which split over a genuinely difficult issue, but (years later) remain unable to even communicate, much less cooperate, as one side is still waiting for the other to express an apology, and regards it as “an issue of justice” to maintain the separation until that happens. While I have no doubt that there are good intentions of protecting people who were hurt, this story makes me very sad. Does this amount to having fervent charity among yourselves, the charity which shall cover a multitude of sins?
As Rev Jack says, we cannot tell others that they must or should forgive. In the tradition of Dion Fortune, when one makes the “Unreserved Dedication” to serve Christ, the initiate promises to sacrifice self, possessions, and personal interests, as need be for the good of the Work, but never to sacrifice others. All we can do is point to the way Jesus has shown us, and try to model self-sacrificing forgiveness in our own lives, praying that grace will give us the courage to do so.