Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Importance of the word "As"

Recently I was reading another article in The Lutheran in which the writer, Bishop Mark Hanson focused upon faith practices, "Living in the Light of Jesus." Reading his article led me to my own take on the scriptures he outlined.

In the last year, our community has been rocked by three senseless murders. First, a troubled young man killed multiple members of his family, and then was apprehended on his way to another state to kill another family member. Who could make sense of this wave of violence? Another murder happened when three young men were driving around looking for someone to rob. They randomly picked a house and asked the man in his driveway if they could use his phone because they were having car trouble. For his courtesy they shot and killed him at his front door. A man who had devoted much of his life to bringing clean water to third world countries, the equivalent of life itself, slaughtered after offering help. Gut-wrenching. Finally, a young man goes to his best friend’s house and kills his friend and both of his parents in violent slashing and then goes to school crying about the loss of his friend. Evil that cannot possibly have any rational explanation that is responsible for life-altering desperation for the surviving families.

In each case, the immediate cry has been for the death penalty. These macabre events demand retribution. There must be justice. These heinous murderers do not deserve to draw breath. Forgiveness is impossible.

Yet, in the first of these three cases to work through our Court system, the family asked the Court for mercy. The young man has had a history of troubled thoughts and had seen much that had affected him. Killing the killer would not restore one life. They ask for his life to be spared. To the mind of the “eye for an eye” crowd, this is incomprehensible. The victim, the surviving grandfather is vilified by some for the request. And think of all of the taxpayer dollars that will be “wasted” on this young man when killing him would be so much more fiscally responsible. As if a life can be reduced to the cost of one’s existence.

Into this fray comes Jesus, “ I give you a new commandment to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” John 13:34. Paul in his epistle to the Colossian church similarly teaches, “Forgive one another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

Of what are we forgiven? Murder. Return to the Passion of our Lord. Taken into custody, beaten, denied food and drink, tortured, ridiculed and killed. By people to whom He offered love, teaching, and a mission of treating others with respect. And what was God the Father’s response to our actions? Did we receive death? Did we suffer “an eye for an eye?”

If it had been so, you and I would not be here today. Instead, the law was fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We were not only forgiven, we were set free!

So when we read that we should love AS we have been loved, is there really a limit to what we should be willing to do for another in the name of Christ? When we are confronted with any insult from the most petty slight to violence and death, and we are called to forgive AS we have been forgiven, do situational ethics change the equation?

Was it just lucky for us that we as a people are spared for killing God’s Son?

While can never understand the heart of evil, the work of demons in our midst, we are not called to match hatred with hatred, but to love and forgive AS the Lord has done so for us.

Doing so does not change the fact that sin has entered in; it does not mean that there is no consequence at all. We can hate the sin. But we are all children of God, and we are not appointed to play God and dispense life and death in a way that He has not.

Our God gave us the example. While it may hard for us to fathom such boundless and infinite love that God shows to us, a fractured people, nonetheless it is His example that we must model, growing into maturity of faith.

God knows we will falter, in small and monumental ways, but AS He shows His grace and mercy to the least of us, so too we must strive to do likewise. Even in the darkest of times we must cling to Christ, the perfect example of love, humility, grace and forgiveness and to render “justice” with that little word “as” in mind.


Pastor Eric said...

I like your post, for forgiveness is soemthing we are called to show toward one another -- after all, like you said, Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins.

But let me ask you this: If a parishoner in a congregation you are serving loses their family to a senseless act of violence (evil) would you look them in the face and say, "You need to forgive that person, who took your family, as Jesus forgives you"?

For us forgiveness is a process not a moment in time (depending on the hurt). If a person is ready to forgive right there on the spot - great! But I would be careful and make sure they have properly processed the event and are grieving. Forgiveness is not natural for us.

LawAndGospel said...

As Paul Harvey used to say, "And now for the rest of the story..." It would be presumptuous to think that any of us can get to forgiveness in an instant. And while this post embodies a model, and perhaps a goal, in the real world, this model is a journey we must walk by faith. I absolutely concur with you. Pastoral care, I sense, is not to issue edicts, but to walk with people in grief and pray for guidance for them and for ourselves in the process. And hopefully being guided to know what to say, or not to say, and when. I know when my father was abducted in NYC, beaten, drugged, robbed and thrown from a moving car and left for dead I did not see "forgiveness" in the moment I learned of it, or for a long time afterwards. Thanks be to God a Good Samaritan called for help and he is alive and well today. It took much time and healing to get to this post. And I suspect that each person takes a different path depending upon the hurt, their personality, their support and their faith.

David said...

Whenever Jesus taught a lesson or spoke a parable, its meaning was always something other than what the obvious conclusion would seem. In this instance I suspect Jesus would have another such lesson.

Suppose you were the pastor of someone who has committed such a crime and this parishioner asked the family for, but did not receive the forgiveness he begged. How would we as pastor to this murderer assure him that God’s grace is his as well? This too is a process that is not readily spent to its conclusion. Anger, guilt, remorse and reconciliation are all just words to such a person.

In either case, only Jesus can break through the evil that has been done and reconcile everything to God. Only by way of the cross can we sinners see just how big the words love and forgiveness really are.

Wow…this is really something to consider. Great post!