Forgiveness, the truest gift

February 2018 · Ministry News

This Lent, we’re sharing a series of weekly reflections provided by members of The Saint Francis Foundation’s Church Relations team. The Rev. Benjamin Thomas, Th.D., has written a few thoughts for this Friday.

“Why is your brother crying?” “Wait a minute, you kicked your sister?”

As the father of four grade school children, my time is often spent as policeman, prosecutor, and judge. Each day, hurt feelings teach us about life in community. We usually untangle these messes by figuring out who sinned and why, before moving on to forgiveness and restoration. All, of course, under the watchful eye of the parents.

This kind of civilizing behavior is necessary for all of us, but it is exhausting. Sorting out each injury, whether real or perceived, according to our household rules is complicated, and the solutions, I am sure, often fall short of true justice. Following and enforcing rules keeps things mostly under control, but this rule-oriented approach to forgiveness is never very satisfying.

Consider instead the vision of forgiveness that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount:

“When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24

With these words, Jesus turns the standard picture of forgiveness on its head.

Instead of some parental figure weighing the merits of a case and assigning responsibility and ensuring restoration, Jesus teaches us that the standard for relationship and forgiveness is the examination of our own conscience. Jesus asks us to consider what we have done wrong and even what we have done right—when it causes someone else grief.

This spiritual self-examination requires us to give up both self-justification and blame as part of reconciliation with our brothers and sisters.

Make no mistake, this kind of forgiveness often comes at great personal cost. It is, however, much more than the restoration of relationship with another human being: forgiving our brothers and sisters, reconciling with them, and expecting nothing in return is the truest gift we can leave at the altar of God, who forgives us all.

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