For World Forgiveness Day

by Hilary Horn

By Emily Huff

For World Forgiveness Day, I want to turn our attention to two stories. The first is the parable of the unforgiving servant from Matthew 18:23-35.  One man owed the king ten thousand talents–the footnote in my Bible says that a talent was worth about 20 years of a day laborer’s wages. It is so easy to gloss over this note and not take time to do some basic math to understand the weight of this story (this means that ten thousand talents would equal 200,000 years of work!).  It is crazy to try to wrap our minds around this, and it is no wonder that this man cried out for mercy because there was no way humanly possible that he would ever be able to pay back the sum. The king did extend mercy and canceled his debt, and he was set free. Can you imagine his joy and the party he must have thrown? Not long after, this same man in turn came across a man who owed him a hundred denarii, about the amount earned from a hundred days (or about four months) of work.  While this is a significant amount of money and more than just a few dollars, the man forgot the gift that had just been given to him, and he refused to forgive the debt. The story ends with this warning of the consequences of an unforgiving heart: 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

While we have been set free and forgiven by Christ’s amazing grace, are we not also like the unforgiving servant as we hold onto debts owed to us with a white-knuckled grip?  We are so easily distracted, and we forget what has been extended to us. This story reminds us that we need to cultivate a heart of gratitude for the grace and mercy we ourselves have been given so that when we are wounded by others that we respond out of love and mercy and not out of anger and vengeance. We sometimes respond like wounded animals backed into a corner, lashing out to protect ourselves. Quite frankly, we have few other models in our culture for winning our battles any other way. Coleman McCarthy, founder for the Center for Teaching Peace, wrote, “We don’t know because we weren’t taught,” and the result of this neglect in our society is “peace illiteracy…a land awash in violence.”

The second story I’d like to focus is the tragic event from the fall of 2006 when Charles Carl Roberts IV walked into an Amish schoolhouse near Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania and shot ten girls.  Five of those girls were killed, and five were seriously injured. After the attack, the murderer shot himself leaving the survivors with searing losses. While our country reacted with anger and outrage, the Amish community there responded with grace, kindness and mercy. Revenge was not a part of their agenda, and they instead poured out forgiveness on the widow of the murderer and on their family.  The media did not know what to do with this. How could this community forgive such evil? Why did they not deliver a severe punishment demanding justice after this unspeakable tragedy? Some editorials wondered why more of the Christian community did not look like this with such a display of practical forgiveness as proof of the faith.

In National Catholic Reporter, Joan Chittister wrote an article about the Amish shooting called “What Kind of People are These?”  She writes, “it was the Christianity we all profess but which [the Amish] practiced that left us stunned.” She answers the question posed in her title with her conclusion: “Interestingly enough, we do know what kind of people the Amish are — and, like the early Romans, we, too, are astounded at it. ‘Christian’ they call it.”

A beautiful book called Amish Grace described the Amish community’s authentic expression of faith amidst this tragedy. This book is based on numerous interviews with community members, relatives of the gunman, and family members of those murdered, and it examined the Amish views on forgiveness at the root of their actions.

In one of the most poignant chapters of Amish Grace, the authors share how the Amish revere forgiveness in worship services twice a year and in remembrance of 16th century martyrs who forgave their persecutors. They take time in their liturgy to remember that Jesus’ life and his message of forgiveness were central to his mission. In addition, the authors note: “The Amish believe if they don’t forgive, they won’t be forgiven. This forms the core of Amish spirituality and the core of their understanding of salvation: forgiveness from God hinges on a willingness to forgive others. The crucial phrase, repeated frequently by the Amish in conversations, sermons, and essays, is this: to be forgiven, we must forgive.”

Forgiveness takes practice, and the Amish take this practice seriously as they take Jesus at his word. It means doing the hard work of letting go of our resentment and grudges. “Genuine forgiveness takes a lot of work — absorbing the pain, extending empathy to the offender, and purging bitterness — even after a decision to forgive has been made.”

This Amish community shows us that there is a better way than the way of the unforgiving servant. We do not have to be trapped in the pain and brokenness of our world. Grace, not vengeance, is the answer where Jesus promises freedom and life. Extending love to our enemies with everyday practices of forgiveness is the gritty work we are called to in our life as Christ followers.

Mother Teresa writes the following:

So, my challenge for us on World Forgiveness Day is to take seriously Jesus’ words to us about forgiveness.  Take some time to make a list of those with whom we share the journey- those who have been given to us and those to whom we have been given. To whom do you belong? Who belongs to you?  

With this list in front of you, consider any bitterness or strife that comes to mind as you name these people.

Then, take some time to name what God has done for you and hold your hand open with gratitude. Allow God to wash over you in this space.

Now you are ready to consider the bitter relationship that needs tending. With gratitude that has been invited in, you are less likely to point the finger at the other person with blame and anger, and you are more likely to come from a place of compassion and grace.

Ask God for help and mercy to help you do this work that you cannot do alone and quite frankly is humanly impossible.  “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” 1 John 4:7.

May God grant us hearts of forgiveness so we may walk in light of His freedom and grace.

I offer the Book of Common Prayer’s liturgy below to help you continue to practice this in your daily life because it is true that practice makes permanent:

Confession of Sin

Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.

The Invitatory and Psalter

V: Lord, open our lips.
R: And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Psalm 95

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.

Come, let us sing to the LORD; *
let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving *
and raise a loud shout to him with psalms

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.

For the LORD is a great God, *
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the caverns of the earth, *
and the heights of the hills are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it, *
and his hands have molded the dry land.

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.

Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, *
and kneel before the LORD our Maker.
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. *
Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.

Harden not your hearts,
as your forebears did in the wilderness, *
at Meribah, and on that day at Massah,
when they tempted me.
They put me to the test, *
though they had seen my works.

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.

Forty years long I detested that generation and said, *
“This people are wayward in their hearts;
they do not know my ways.”
So I swore in my wrath, *
“They shall not enter into my rest.”

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.

 

 

 

Episcopal Church. The Book Of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church : Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of the Episcopal Church. New York :Seabury Press, 1979.

Chittister, Joan. “What Kind of People Are These?” National Catholic Reporter, 9 Oct. 2006, www.ncronline.org/blogs/where-i-stand/what-kind-people-are-these.

Kraybill, Donald B, Steven M. Nolt, and David Weaver-Zercher. Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007.

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