9.09.2008

The 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

During worship at KC the last few weeks we have been thinking together about what it means to be a community and how we are able to build better communities that are centered around Christ. One of the qualities of community that has been mentioned a couple of times but has not been directly discussed recently is the concept of Forgiveness.

We don't know about you, but this is not an easy topic for us. The more we think about it the more we recognize how much emotion and life and reality is tied up in the actions of Forgiving and Being Forgiven. To Forgive someone, you have to have been wronged in some way....someone has to have wronged you. To Be Forgiven you have to have wronged someone somehow. None of those are pleasant options. Then there is the added stickiness of perspective. I might feel you have wronged me, but you do not...and I expect you to ask for Forgiveness. Or you might feel you have wronged me, but I don't see it that way and you feel the need to be Forgiven, but I do not. The perspective and judgment of at least two individuals are necessary for Forgiveness to be expected or offered. Emotional and Complicated this Forgiveness is.

While Forgiveness may be a component of how we are best able to function as a community, the reality is that our ability to forgive and be forgiven seems to be a deeply Personal, Unknowable thing. We are even a little Uncomfortable when we think about talking intimately about Forgiveness in the community that so desperately needs us to be Forgiven and Forgiving.

In this week's readings we find Jesus and Peter speaking openly about Forgiveness. Peter wants to know how many times he should Forgive someone, and Jesus answers with a story about how the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. Jesus tells this parable of a man who was Forgiven a HUGE debt and then later this same man would not Forgive another person a much smaller debt. The parable ends with the king torturing this fellow until he paid his entire HUGE debt. Now there is certainly a lot to say about class and wealth and power within this example of how and why and when one should forgive, but let's just think for a moment about what we learn it takes to forgive from this parable. In many ways, the initial huge debt is like the grace are granted Daily (ney, hourly) by God, evidenced by the sacrifice of Jesus at the Crucifixion. Certainly in our petty moments, we fail to forgive those around us, forgetting that we are not perfect and therefore in need of forgiveness ourselves. There is some of Jesus' "twinkling eye" story-telling here. How Ironic that in the name of Forgiveness, anyone would be Tortured? It raised a question, too - is torture literal? Or could we be self-tortured when we fail to forgive authentically? Is it critical to our ability to forgive to remember that we are forgiven? Or that we are debtors as well? Or both?

Paul speaks about Forgiveness from a different angle. He asks how and why we form opinions of one another and pass judgment on one another in the first place. He appears to be speaking to some of the more pious....at least "observant" followers of Christ in this community. Remember, Paul was writing as a quite recently VERY observant, VERY committed follower of the Torah.....knowing the law and passing judgments and knowing when someone could / should be reconciled or Forgiven...that was all his business.

The Psalmist rights a hymn of praise that reflects upon a God who pushed back the Sea of Reeds and the mighty Jordan River to let the Israelites pass after the Hebrews left the wilderness to enter the promise land. Those two events framed the time spent wandering and murmuring. While in the wilderness, Yahweh time and time again showed patience and Forgiveness for the people of Israel.

And then there is the story we find in Exodus. We left this one until the end because it fits with some of the same "difficult passages" we mentioned last week. It is the story of the Israelites running from the Egyptians and Moses ( +Yahweh of course) holding back the waters of the Sea of Reeds long enough for the Israelites to pass through, but not long enough for the Egyptians. It is hard to think about where Forgiveness fits in to this story. We have spent some time wondering if there was any possibility for Forgiveness in this story. Was there any other way this could have worked out? Is this what the Egyptians "deserve" because they would not let the children of Israel go (and likely ruin their economy)? Could the children of Israel have interceded between Yahweh and the Egyptians and forgiven the Egyptians and somehow made it okay for them to stay enslaved in Egypt? Did it have to work out where untold hundreds of Egyptian soldiers were drowned?

And thinking about something like the idea of Forgiveness and Egyptians and the Israelites brings our minds to the 7th anniversary of the events of We do not dare attempt to draw any direct parallels between the biblical scene (Egypt, Israel, and Yahweh) and the players in our scene (the US, Taliban terrorists, and the Gods of Fundamentalism and Freedom), but one could certainly find some common themes in these two situations we think. But our question for this discussion is whether or not we as victims (at least we often see ourselves as victims here) have the ability or responsibility to Forgive the people and systems that wronged us. Is there any way that the people and systems that we feel wronged us could have looked at us in a different way and offered us Forgiveness? In a situation like this (or like between Israel and Egypt) where the two sides are so desperately opposed, what does Forgiveness look like?

Forgiveness is a tough topic. It is fairly easy to grasp as a theoretical concept, but it is often quite difficult to implement.

  • Does real forgiveness require real sacrifice?
  • Do we love ourselves as forgiven people so that we can love and forgive others? What is difficult about that for you? How could your community help you in that endeavor?
  • How do you / we reconcile the Exodus story with the passages from Romans and Matthew? Should we try to hold these together? Is it possible? Is it necessary?

"Without Forgiveness, there is no future." -Archbishop Desmond Tutu

No comments: