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Chapter 30 - Forgive Your EnemiesFor if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, your Father will also not forgive your trespasses.
- Matthew 6:14-15
When Jesus was taken to Calvary and crucified, one of the last things he said as he hung there, dying on the cross, was Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. In the midst of his pain and suffering as the victim of the greatest crime in the history of the world, Jesus was still willing and able to forgive.
For the Christian Hero, forgiveness is the final step towards victory without violence. The important thing to remember is that we forgive as much or as more for our own sakes as for the sakes of those we forgive. Our forgiveness may or may not weaken the hold that evil has on our adversaries, but it will unfailingly offer us protection against that evil spreading into our own hearts. In the normal course of events, evil grows and festers inside people until they lash out and harm others. If those others respond in kind, evil is able to spread and reproduce by growing in the hearts of the victims. If, however, the victims are forgiving, the cycle of evil is disrupted.
When we execute a murderer, we often believe we are destroying evil. The opposite, however, is true. Although we may be killing the person who housed the evil and gave it form, we are providing another home for that same evil in our own hearts and souls. We murder people on behalf of the state, and in so doing we become evils new host.
The only true way to destroy evil is to drive it out with love. Thus we witness Jesus own behavior when challenged to endorse the death penalty. The Pharisees brought before him a prisoner whose crime carried the mandated penalty of death under the Law of Moses, and whose guilt was not in question. Rather than participate in the execution, he acted to halt it, extended forgiveness, and counseled reform.
This is difficult even to imagine. The thought of some crimes is so horrible that it brings an involuntary reaction of anger despite every best effort. But what is Jesus asking us to do? It is neither to approve of horrible things, nor to change our minds about what we consider wrong. Rather, he is instructing us to give up on revenge, to be mindful of our own flaws, and to place everything in Gods hands. What do we do in the face of remorseless, implacable evil? We deny it a place in our own hearts. In the end, who our adversaries are and what they have done to us is irrelevant. We forgive others as much for our own benefit as for theirs.
Identify those people and groups who have hurt or harmed you, your family, your community or your nation. Release your anger and extend to them your forgiveness.
The source of this confusion was a vision he had experienced as a young child. In the vision, as he later recalled it, he was brought before the spirits of nature, and entrusted with two powers: the power to heal and the power to kill. The first power was meant for the first half of his life, so that he could be a great healer and traditional doctor. The second power was meant for the second half of his life, when he was expected to become a great chief who would bring about the wholesale destruction of his peoples enemies.
In his younger years, Black Elk enthusiastically accepted the first half of his supposed destiny, taking on the role of traditional healer, and taking pride and pleasure in his ability to cure sickness. He continued in this manner until a time near his fortieth birthday, which was the appointed moment for him to switch from the path of healing to the path of killing. As the date approached, however, he realized that he had no heart left for the destruction of his enemies. In his youth he had seen too much death, having been present at the massacre at Wounded Knee, in which 300 Lakota men, women and children were killed by members of the United States Army.
Instead of his memories priming him for revenge, the now middle-aged Black Elk realized that he had lost all taste for slaughter. As much as he loved his people and their traditions, his heart was calling him towards another path. As his letters reveal, he had an interest in Christianity dating back to a time during his youth when he toured with Buffalo Bills Wild West Show. Now, on the brink of traveling the pathway of destruction, he came to a choice. Although he had once resisted the priests, and their attempts to interfere with his practice of the old ways, he now freely embraced a religion that preached forgiveness rather than revenge. Without ever losing his love and respect for Lakota tradition, he became the faithful servant of Christ that he would remain for the rest of his life.
So thus all along, of the white mans many customs, only his faith, the white mans beliefs about Gods will, and how they act according to it, I wanted to understand.
Nicholas Black Elk, The Sixth Grandfather
Perhaps the most severe test of Kings commitment to forgiveness came on a terrible morning in September of 1963, when a bomb exploded in a church during Sunday School, killing four young girls. Even faced with the horror of this act, King held fast to his convictions, preaching a sermon of reconciliation rather than revenge over the coffins of the young victims. He understood that for a Christian, injury and even death are not defeats. It is a defeat to give in to hatred and the desire for revenge, but forgiveness is a victory over evil.
This quote only available in print by arrangement with the Estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther (Michael) King, Jr.,
This is also what Archbishop Óscar Romero did as well. He had never sought to be a martyr, and had lived sixty years in relative peace and quiet. Nor was he someone who was ready to die, or had grown tired of life. Yet it had become increasingly clear to him that he could not speak the truth as an advocate for the poor and oppressed, without becoming a target for those with the will and the ability to kill. Because of this, he was able to evaluate his life with the foreknowledge that it was destined to end violently and soon. It was a prospect that would have driven many lesser men or women mad with fear and paranoia. Romero, however, responded, like Christ, with words of forgiveness even for his approaching murderers.
You can tell people, if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize that they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish.
Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, Reflections on His Life and Writings (Dennis)
In his eulogy, however, Tutu refused to give into the temptation to preach a message of hate or revenge. Instead, he asked the mourners to realize that apartheid in South Africa had dehumanized whites as much as it had blacks. He then asked the crowd to pray for white South African leaders and policemen, not only to restore the humanity of their victims, but to regain their own humanity as well.
Tutu would later carry that same ethic of forgiveness into the post-apartheid era as the head of South Africas Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Under Tutus leadership it became a unique experiment in forgiveness and healing. The basic idea of the commission was simple: There had been too many crimes and too many deaths that had taken place under apartheid for them to simply be forgotten. At the same time, harsh punishments of the kind demanded by many within the new South African majority government would have led to more anger and bitterness. Instead, the commission offered amnesty to all those willing to confess fully to their crimes, and who could demonstrate that their acts had been politically motivated. In addition, no favoritism would be shown to one side or the other. Both members of the former apartheid-supporting government, and members of the former dissident and rebel groups that had opposed apartheid would have to submit to the same process, the same standards, and the same arbitration. At the same time, those who had been victims of violence and atrocities were encouraged to speak out about their experiences. The proceedings were then broadcast nationwide.
Although many criticized the commission for offering forgiveness rather than retribution, the commission is owed much of the credit for easing the transition between the old government and the new government, and for starting the country on a pathway of healing.
Jesus did not wait until those who were nailing him to the Cross had asked for forgiveness. He was ready, as they drove in the nails, to pray to his Father to forgive them If the victim could forgive only when the culprit confessed, then the victim would be locked into the culprits whim, locked into victimhood, whatever her own attitude or intention
Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu , God Has A Dream
Closing Prayer (inspired by Luke 23:34)Forgive us, Father, for we know not what we do. Amen.
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