One afternoon I was walking down a side street and, turning the corner, smacked abruptly up against a brightly-clad woman.
We both made our startled apologies, and then I noticed on her colorful shirt six stacked words in capital letters. They read:
WOW. In a world replete with caveats, that was a radical statement. EVERYTHING? ALWAYS? In this moment in which many of us are more aware than ever of the horrors humans inflict upon humans?
It stayed with me long after the woman and I continued on our paths. Would it be possible, I wondered, to live out the command on that shirt?
The irony of the T-shirt is that as radical as its message seemed, once I’d sat with it for awhile, I realized I’d been hearing it my whole life.
Oh, right! I’m a Christian! Forgiveness — radical forgiveness: God’s of us and us of our fellows — is an article of our faith!
In today’s reading (Matthew 18:21-35), Jesus uses strong language with Peter about forgiveness.
Just as a king might “torture” those who do not forgive, “so my Heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from the heart.”
I think we all have experience of the feeling of holding a resentment: the obsessive, reflexive thoughts that resentment gives rise to — that can feel like torture. We don’t need God to do that, we do that to ourselves.
What miraculous freedom is made possible from making another choice: to forgive.
And to stand in the faith that *I* too am forgiven, by God, is equally freeing. Guilt and shame can function to paralyze us.
My chosen Lenten practice this year is to practice letting go of my habitual negativity. While I can’t think of a person in my life for whom I hold resentment, I certainly can think of people on the public stage, and I do walk around as if the whole world has gone to hell in a handbasket, as if it’s been broken for a long time and no one told me. “How dare you keep that from me? That our world was broken and I didn’t know it!”
But God has been telling us that all along. That our world is broken. And that there is a path to redemption.
I’m so grateful to have an ecclesiastical season to walk with God and repent of that habitual stance, to ask for and be given forgiveness, to learn to unclench my heart and accept all that is.
At Grace Cathedral we pray to be forgiven for the evil we’ve done and for the evil done on our behalf. My faith tells me that it’s my job to work to address those evils done on my behalf: as a white person in a world set up for white people, and as a person with resources in a world set up to extract more from those who have less.
I am learning that I can hold all of that to be true while also holding another truth: that my seeing something as unforgivable can, through the perspective of radical forgiveness, be my spiritually maladept habit of looking at life through the lens of what’s not working, rather than choosing the “forgiveness” lens, and seeing the glory of God in all of God’s creation.