“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others.
If you refuse to do your part, you cut
yourself off from God’s part. Matthew 6:14 - 15 (TMSG)
It’s Holy Thursday and many congregations will have a Maundy Thursday service including Holy Communion. The backdrop will, of course, include the betrayal of Judas, the one who would sell his friend (and his own soul) for the price of a few coins.
Whenever Judas comes up so does the question of being forgiven. Was he? Or did his suicide seal the deal; do we forward his mail to the flames? It’s generally accepted that, by not asking forgiveness, Judas received none.
But that question is of less significance to me than the one about being genuinely forgiven when you do ask.
True, there are those who don’t “feel” forgiven by God, even though they’ve asked three zillion times. But that’s a matter of human frailty – a pathological need to be guilty and stay that way. It’s self-punishment, not a matter of God being unwilling, unable or uncaring to forgive.
The real problem of not being forgiven by God is a matter of the way we refuse to forgive others. God is always willing to forgive those who are willing to forgive. If we won’t, we cut ourselves off from the boundless grace of Christ’s gift on the cross. I have known so many “unforgiven” people. There are too many categories of anger, hurt and plain old “meanness” to categorize here. But I’ve seen it all tear families apart in the churches I’ve served, and the family and friends who’ve filled my life.
Go back to the top of the page and look at the happy guy with his good-looking bride. That’s what forgiveness looks like. The guy is my Uncle Charlie; his bride my Aunt Mick. We laid Uncle Charlie’s worn-out 91 year old body to rest last month. His bride left us six years earlier. I had the privilege of speaking at both services.
My uncle was a soft-spoken man – a bit too nervous for his own blood pressure, but a delight, and a source of great inspiration to me about the capacity humans possess to forgive. He was a field-promoted sergeant in World War II, serving in the worst parts of the European push to end the war. He dealt with PTSD long before it was called that.
Memories of the horror of war did not define Uncle Charlie. I recall many holidays in the 1950’s when we’d gather around their table for a meal and long visits. The laughter around the table was like fireworks on the Fourth of July. And the big boomers came from Uncle Charlie’s belly laughs.
There were summers that I got to stay a week or two with my cousins. To keep us entertained Uncle Charlie set up a pretty good-sized pool in their little back yard. It was for the kids, but he was never far from the action.
Fast forward to 1967. I was 19 and had just finished basic training in the Army. I was also on orders to go to Vietnam.
During family “good-byes” Uncle Charlie placed a family treasure in my hands; it was a German Luger pistol he had taken from a captured officer in the big war. His words were always few, but I still remember – Russell Jay, you take care; maybe this will help. I thanked my uncle and told him I’d take care of it and bring it back. He simply smiled and said, just make sure you bring YOU back.
When I reported to the California air base a few days later, the orientation included a warning against taking any “personal weapons” along. I cooperated and willingly gave the pistol up to a sergeant who said he’d make sure it was returned. It wasn’t!
After serving my duty year in Vietnam I almost hated to see my uncle. I couldn’t stand the thought of facing him without being able to return his pistol. But when we finally stood face to face he hugged me. I told him I was sorry about losing his gun, and Uncle Charlie simply said, what gun? Then he smiled and hugged me again.
I wish I could begin to describe for you what that forgiveness has meant to me, and the way it has shaped how I’ve tried to forgive others throughout my life.
Forgive…and be forgiven! Jesus said it; and it works!