Sunday, March 27, 2022

Forgiveness: Those who counted the cost -- and ran

This continues a Lenten series on forgiveness, focusing on all-too-human sins that Jesus encountered and forgave. 

We have looked at Jesus' understanding of Peter, James, and John's weakness in the garden. We have considered Jesus' compassion for Peter's denial. For the rest of them? When faced with a squad of soldiers, to put it plainly: most of the disciples ran. Jesus was facing an arrest on capital charges -- with a speedily-held trial in a politicized court where innocence didn't matter, and sentenced to death in a manner that was designed to terrify people into compliance. It largely worked. The disciples were afraid. When they saw the price tag of sticking with Jesus on that night, most of them ran away. 

Jesus had known they would. He told them in advance, at dinner that night, that all of them would leave him. And still they went to the garden with him. He still wanted their company, and they wanted his. The Gospel of John regards the disciples leaving as the fulfillment of the prophecy that Jesus had lost none of those the Father gave him (John 18:9) -- that their lives truly would have been in danger if they had stayed. Had he told them in advance so that, from the safety of their hiding place, they would know that he had understood? 

There have been times in my life when I have been in need. So far those times have been few and far between, though they have stood out in my own mind. A few years back I took a blog break for health reasons, when for a few months I was nearly a medical shut-in until a health issue was resolved. The memory of people turning away can lead me to some uncharitable thoughts toward people that I had hoped would be there for me, and who decided that they just couldn't or wouldn't be there for me, not right then, not in that particular hour of need. No way to get groceries? There are delivery services. No way to get the yard cut? It's possible to get that hired. It's not necessarily other peoples' problem that I was in need. Those who take care of their own concerns may have valid concerns. Have I never turned down a request when my own life was tricky, or someone asked more than they seem to realize? Those who did stand by me in times of need are especially close to my heart. Those who did stand by me -- that's a gift, not an obligation. 

Lord, may I forgive the sins -- whether real or perceived -- from those who did not stand by me in my troubles. May I let go of grudges or bitter thoughts, and have the courage to face troubles graciously. 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Forgiveness: Those who tapped out when we needed them

This continues a Lenten series on forgiveness, focusing on the same kinds of sins that Jesus encountered and forgave. 

On the night in which he was betrayed, we know so many details of what Jesus did. And after dinner, he and some of his disciples went to a garden called Gethsemane. Jesus prayed. He asked his disciples to stay with him. His closest disciples, he asked them to stay close by him, to keep watch with him as he prayed. And they kept falling asleep. Over and over again. How often does Jesus ask for moral support? At the all-too-human moment of facing his own death, even as he prays, he asks for the company of his friends. And he keeps finding them asleep. It is an honor to be asked to watch with someone in their dark hour; that's easy to forget when it's late at night.

Are they unwilling? That's not the problem. He asked and they came with him. But after a good meal, and as the night wore on, their human frailty got the better of them. As Jesus said when he found them napping, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."

There are times when I am angry at the people who were not there in my hour of need. As we see with the disciples, that can happen even from a simple thing like a late hour and a good meal: the eyelids grow heavy, and we truly hope nobody needs us because we will not be awake. I tend to imagine that people would be there for me if only the other person really cared -- but Jesus teaches me better: sometimes it's not right to doubt the sincerity of their compassion, so much as to remember the weakness of our humanity.

Lord, help me to forgive those who did not do what they could, when I asked for support. May I call to mind their willingness, and the weakness of humanity that we share.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Forgiveness: Promises not kept

This continues a Lenten series on forgiveness. The series follows kinds of sins that Jesus encountered and forgave, and if I could find the grace to forgive others for the same. 

  • "Even if all should fall away, I will not." -- Peter, on the night in which Jesus was betrayed
  • "I don't know the man!" -- Peter, within 24 hours ... outside the place where the trial was held
Peter tried. He really did. When Jesus was arrested, most of the disciples scattered. Peter didn't run away, he followed. He said he'd be there for Jesus even if it cost his own arrest, even if it cost his own life. He wanted to have that much courage. He watched the others run to avoid arrest, even his own brother Andrew and his old fishing partners James and John. He watched his leader arrested, watched him being mocked and slapped around by the soldiers. He was the only one of Jesus' followers there, but he wasn't alone. He was surrounded by people who were on the other side, and they were starting to turn their attention to him. At some point his nerve failed. 

It's easy to blame him, and maybe easy to forgive him. The reason we see his failings -- and his alone: honestly, wasn't that because he was the only one who was still there? Yes, he fell away, but everyone else had fallen away sooner. 

There are times when I look at people who made promises they did not keep. Am I sure I've never been the one who fell away? Am I angry or disappointed when someone makes a promise they didn't keep -- but give a pass to people who didn't even try? Sometimes we hit our limits. We're human. As we remember in Lent: We are dust, and to dust we will return. 

Lord, may I forgive the promises not kept. May I remember the hope and well-wishes that were the intent of the promise, and forgive the human weakness that prevented its fulfillment. May I remember how easy it is not to know quite what we're up against, not to know what the future holds -- and show mercy gladly and willingly for those who offered a promise that they had intended to keep, but later did not. 

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Forgiveness: Sins committed in ignorance

Jesus often focused on forgiveness. If the central focus of his life is found in his journey to the cross, then forgiveness deserves a more central place in my own thoughts and my own life. When I think of forgiveness, I often think of the forgiveness that I need to receive. How often do I think of the forgiveness that I need to give? 

First I will focus on something that may be easier for me: sins against me that were done in ignorance. 

"Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing." -- Jesus, at his execution

In the Bible, the Law of Moses has a thread of teaching that sins of ignorance are more easily forgiven than sins of defiance (see, for example, Numbers 15:22-30). The apostle Peter speaks of sins committed in ignorance (Acts 3:17), as did the apostle Paul (Acts 17:30, 1 Timothy 1:13). Most notably, Jesus spoke of it at his execution, praying that his executioners be forgiven because they did not know what they  were doing (Luke 23:34). 

Of the times that other people have wronged me, were some of them done unknowingly or because of mistaken information? Once I heard someone make a passionate speech for action and I wanted to find a way to help, asking "What can we do?" She publicly mocked me for being defeatist. Looking back, I know that "What can we do?" is sometimes used in a defeatist way, but I had meant it sincerely. It stung to be publicly held up to ridicule, especially when my meaning was very much the opposite. Again, once I knew some people who were continually hostile to me, and I did not find out til years later that someone had been telling them tales which were far from true. I suppose it's possible the tale-teller believed the things they were saying -- that didn't make it right, or any more pleasant to find out that anyone believed it. Confusions and misunderstandings, missing information and missed guesses, they're all part of the world we live in. If I were the one who made the bad assumption, what would I think if someone held a grudge against me for it? 

I consider when Jesus was being executed. The judges had ordered him to be put to death. How were the soldiers to know the rest of the story? They were caught up in other peoples' mistakes or lies or corruption. Jesus forgave them. So if someone misunderstood or misinterpreted my meaning, if someone believed a lie told about me -- am I willing to forgive them? 

Lord, may I forgive the sins committed against me in ignorance. May I remember how easy it is to simply not know the truth, or not know the fullness of the truth, to trust the wrong person -- and show mercy gladly and willingly for those who have wronged me, not knowing what they do.