Forgiveness is vulnerable. It doesn’t just say, “I forgive,” it turns the other cheek. When I parked my mind on the shortcomings of another, I needed forgiveness as much as my offender.
We are on equal footing with those who have wronged us at the foot of the cross.
I parked my mind on the offense of another
There is a sick pleasure in mentally rehearsing the indignities of another toward us. We enjoy it because it paints us as being altogether good in contrast to the offender who becomes increasingly evil in our judgment as we elaborate on the offense. However, Jesus said there is only One who is altogether good. Even Jesus himself refused to attribute goodness to his own humanity. He pointed toward God as the source of all goodness.
“Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments'” (Matthew 19:16-17 NIV).
When I realized how unforgiving I had been simply because I had parked my mind on the shortcomings of another, I realized how short I had fallen from God’s ideal for me. I was just as much in need of forgiveness as the one who had offended me. I choose to free the offender from my mind and by doing so I am freeing myself.
But sometimes the offense hurts so badly that we can’t get our mind off the pain. All of our emotions join the chorus of hatred toward that which has caused such heartache. It is then that we have to work through forgiveness with God’s help.
Jesus forgives at home with his “family” of apostles
The story of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples has been especially helpful to me as I’ve struggled with forgiveness in home and family. You can read that story in John 13:1-38.
Jesus had earthly parents, siblings, and relatives, but he left home and developed his ministry. The twelve apostles became like an immediate family to him. For three years, they lived and traveled together and shared fellowship.
Jesus knew during this time that Judas would betray him. Yet Jesus always guarded Judas’ dignity and treated him with the same loving kindness that he lavished upon all the disciples. Even in the face of imminent betrayal, Jesus was careful not to publicly disgrace Judas. He very discretely shared with John alone who his betrayer would be. Jesus did this only to provide further proof that Jesus was the Messiah:
“‘I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He'” (John 13:19 NIV)
Jesus also provided for us an example of how to respond to close family members who we know have done or plan to do us wrongly. Jesus knew that his beloved twelve would soon desert him in his hour of need. Peter would deny him three times: “He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about.’ Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.’ And he broke down and wept” (Mark 14:71-72 NIV)
The other disciples would watch from a distance: “The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’ When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things” (Luke 23:47-49 NIV)
Judas Iscariot would sell him for thirty silver coins: “Then one of the Twelve — the one called Judas Iscariot — went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.” (Matthew 26:14-16 NIV)
Only the Apostle John stood by him at the cross according to John 19:25-27. Yet at this last supper just prior to his arrest in the garden, his betrayal by Judas whom he knew was an imposter from the beginning, and his desertion by his closest loved ones, the King of Glory did an amazing thing. He took off his outer garment, girded himself with a towel as a servant, knelt down, and lovingly washed the feet of each man whom he knew would shortly reject him.
Jesus said: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15 NIV). We won’t get into a discussion of whether or not he was also setting an example of foot-washing. Suffice it to say he was setting an example of forgiveness and servant hood to close family members who do us wrong, in addition to whatever else he may or may not have been indicating here.
Jesus taught the pattern of forgiveness
Jesus gave us the pattern of forgiveness in Matthew 5:38-41: “You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matthew 5:38-41 NIV)
He is teaching us that forgiveness is willing to make itself vulnerable. You can’t forgive someone without making yourself vulnerable to be hurt again.
A personal story
She was a sweet Christian friend who ran a home-based business. Her service and skill was exceptional, and I was thankful to be one of her customers. But one day I said something that offended her. I didn’t mean to offend, but I should have been more careful. I realized how my words could have been interpreted to mean something much more harsh than their intent.
Though I apologized quickly, my friend refused to provide service for me via her business after that. I begged her forgiveness, and I will never forget her response: “I forgive you, but I just don’t think I can do this for you anymore. I was just so upset by what you said.”
She verbalized the words, “I forgive you.” She deceived herself into believing them. But I knew I wasn’t forgiven. A year or two later, God intervened in our relationship. My friend truly forgave me, and I was once again able to be one of her customers. Today we rarely have opportunity to see each other, but when we do there is a wonderful bond of Christian love between us.
Forgiveness doesn’t just say the words, “I forgive you.” Forgiveness makes itself vulnerable to be hurt again. Forgiveness turns the other cheek. This is not to say you should live with physical abuse or continued promiscuity on the part of your mate. But even in these situations, you must come to a place where you are willing to trade your bitterness and hurt for the peace of God that allows you to offer them kindness rather than retaliation.
Forgiveness draws the biggest circle
Jesus is teaching us in this passage to share freely with our enemies and to give more than they ask. How is this done? Edwin Markham’s poem Outwitted has long been a favorite of mine:
He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
What do we do with the pain?
David Augsburger, in The Freedom of Forgiveness says “The man who forgives pays a tremendous price – the price of the evil he forgives!”
Did it hurt God to forgive? You bet it did! God felt the awful cost of forgiveness as he watched his own beloved son hang from the cross that day.
Jesus was willing to go to the cross to forgive our husbands for the wrong they have done. The God of creation was willing to suffer their punishment. Who am I to refuse forgiveness to those for whom Christ died? Our husbands’ shortcomings are no blacker in God’s eyes than our own. All sin put Jesus on the cross. It is all despicable to God. Yet our God willingly took off his royal robes and left heaven to become one of us. He allowed us to strip his human body naked and he hung in shame and disgrace before the world, not only to provide forgiveness to our husbands, but to us as well.
I’ve tried to share forgiveness in our homes here, but each time I keep finding myself back at the cross. Forgiveness starts at the cross, and forgiveness ends at the cross. We are on equal footing with those who have wronged us at the foot of the cross.
Thank you for what you have done for us. Thank you for the forgiveness we have found in your cross. Keep us ever near it.
Forgive us for being so unforgiving. Bless our husbands and our families and all those who have hurt us as you have blessed us who have hurt you.
In your precious name we pray, Amen.
Questions for Discussion
- How and why is the cross so relevant to forgiveness?
- What does our thought life have to do with forgiveness?
- What is the relevance of our attitudes toward others in regard to forgiveness?
- James 2:10 says “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (NIV) Are there degrees of evil? Are our intolerances and unforgiveness toward another’s mistreatment of us any less evil than what they have done to us? Why or why not?
- Since we are not divine, is it possible for us to forgive others with the same completeness with which Jesus forgave his persecutors? Why or why not?
- Is vulnerability required to truly forgive someone? Why or why not?
- What about physical abuse, or continued fornication from a mate? Should we ever “draw the line”?
- How do you think the poet “drew a circle that took him in?”
Forgiveness I: A look at the cross
Scripture taken from New International Version unless otherwise noted