We bundle a number of actions together with forgiveness making it a contingent action. How do I forgive if the offending person does not ask? What role do remorse, repentance, and restitution play in forgiveness? We tend to practice forgiveness as a secondary act rather than a primary act. Jesus’ words from the cross seem to make forgiveness an initiatory act that may be practiced apart from the contingent features we often add – “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
I had hoped to post my sermon from Sunday. We were out of CD’s. I forgive our “sound guy” for not informing us we needed to buy more. In lieu of the audio I offer a portion of the text I wrote out as a guide. Full disclosure here. I write something of a manuscript each week. But, only rarely do I read the manuscript when delivering the sermon. In fact, I can only think of once where I read from the manuscript for more than a quoted source – this past Sunday.
This week’s video of Bishop Tutu on forgiveness gives something of a glimpse into forgiveness as the key. I was in South Africa for the Baptist World Alliance General Council meeting held there in Durban in 1998. One of the features of that multi-national meetings was a session where Bishop Tutu was the keynote speaker.
Here is an excerpt from the text of Sunday’s sermon,
In what may be controversial to some, Derrida suggested that we unbundle from forgiveness other important actions – like repentance and reconciliation. He referred to that as pure forgiveness.
We have trouble with this. We want to forgive knowing the one forgiven will repent, provide restitution, and make decisions in keeping with reconciliation.
It seems to me Jesus tells Peter to forgive purely.
And in an ironic story to follow he presses the point that those who follow Jesus should bear the great weight of forgiving his way. The parable following the answer to Peter about how many times to forgive is one of those head scratchers.
Jesus just said that we are to forgive more times than we are offended. Then he tells the parable of the fellow who receives forgiveness but then does not forgive. We so want to point to this story as if to address the matters of repentance and restitution. But, read carefully, it really does seem that what Jesus is aiming at is this. If you follow me, living my way, you must forgive the way you have been forgiven. The weight of the parable is squarely on those who are given to follow Jesus.
It is here that I return to the way Willimon ended his reflection on 9/11. For, it is there that we are reminded that the rupture the world needs at any point at which it undertakes to remember 9/11, the Murrah Bombing, Pearl Harbor and other terrible events, is forgiveness. Pure forgiveness in the Way of Jesus.
What would have changed following 9/11 if we who follow Jesus had taken into our own lives, opinions, and actions to rupture the natural tendencies to pay back more than what we suffer?
We are left looking to escape the shame of not filling out the Way of Jesus when it would have made a world of difference. We think it an out to say this does not apply to governments. They exist under the weight of protecting its people. I say true. And, when a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people represents the ethos of a people given to their natural whims we have witnessed what we expect.
But, as those living in the Kingdom of God we bear the marks of, as Willimon put it, the greatest injustice in the world. We live knowing,
the worst day in history was not a Tuesday in New York, but a Friday in Jerusalem when a consortium of clergy and politicians colluded to run the world on our own terms by crucifying God’s own Son.
We who have shared in the gracious forgiveness of God stand under the weight of that same measure. Oh that we would be different after the resurrection knowing it is now ours to forgive.