Forgiveness & Accountability CAN go HAND-in-Hand

Some THEOLOGY FOR TODAY: Regarding how FORGIVENESS & ACCOUNTABILITY can go hand-in-hand:
It is always good that we WRESTLE with the dynamics of both, just as Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32) the night before he took the chance to return to his homeland and be greeted by his brother Esau (the one from whom he took the birthright and blessing of the firstborn). Already we see that Jacob had to take the consequences of his actions (flee his homeland, live under the authoritarian rule of Uncle Laban for over 14 years, etc.) There is a strong Biblical sense that God allows the consequences of our actions to play themselves out–assuring us that God is with us in these undertakings and strengthens us, helping us to mature and grow while still forgiving us. The magnanimity of Esau when he greets and hugs Jacob is quite astonishing but not at all unrelated to Esau being fully aware of Jacob’s years of exile. Similarly, Jesus forgave Peter for denying him, yet Jesus did not respond immediately to Peter’s tears but allowed Peter to experience the grief and self-scrutiny he needed before the Resurrection proclamation of PEACE BE WITH YOU. Of course, there is a time to completely “wipe the slate clean,” as the saying goes, but this requires prayerful discernment in relation to the offense and the harm to self and others, and the personalities and age of the persons involved. The Prodigal Son, for example, is forgiven and embraced, but the Father’s property is not going to be divided once again for the prodigal’s benefit. His brother’s portion remains intact and the prodigal will be indebted to the Father’s and ultimately his brother’s mercy until which time he is able to go out on his own with a sense of responsibility and dignity–if ever.
In the Sermon on the Plain, when Jesus says, “‘From the one who takes what is yours, do not demand it back,” I think Jesus is referring to our usual rage and insecurities that someone has taken advantage of us. He invites us to move from the bitter anger we feel and instead, find our dignity and worth with confidence in God’s love so that when we address the “robber,” there is a sense of God’s justice, not ours–i.e., some accountability but not as if our life and dignity depended upon it (in which case the punishments often do not fit the crime). Rather, “The Kingdom of God” invites us to always be about growing in wisdom, forbearance and Hope–for the offender just as much as for ourselves.
This issue is a large one with many levels and applications — including, for example, our prison systems that are far more punitive than redemptive. It doesn’t mean killers go free to kill again but it does mean that they are treated with dignity throughout their life in prison to the extent that their souls and spirits through “tough love,” if you will, are given opportunities toward remorse, empowering them to accept the consequences of their actions, take responsibility for them, and prepare for heaven– mental and emotional illnesses notwithstanding. Not everyone, not every Christian agrees with this but I believe we are compelled to wrestle with these concepts.

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7 Steps toward Forgiveness

Sunday 17 September 2017: Scripture Readings for the Day:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091717.cfm

We can almost grow weary by the biblical order “to forgive.”   Clearly, Judaism emphasized it–those are strong words we heard from the Book of Sirach–and Jesus insisted upon it repeatedly in words and striking parables like this one.

Don’t we realize that when we refuse to forgive, we are breaking the first and foremost Commandment: I am the Lord your God you shall have no false gods before me?

Friends, we put ourselves above God and God’s mercy when we refuse to forgive! When we refuse to enter into the process of forgiveness, we fully disengage ourselves from the Two Great Commandments: Deuteronomy 6: 4 ff: Hear, O Israel![b] The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.  And we hear in Leviticus   19:18 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

In Matthew, Mark and Luke: Paul’s Letters to the Romans and Galatians, the Epistle of James repeat and repeat the phrase.  “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Moreover, Jesus makes clear in today’s parable and many others that forgiveness is an extension of love. It is the essential ingredient to love, for as soon as LOVE stops being “Love-Forgiveness,” how can we trust we’re participating in the fullness of love? Friends, Dating Couples, Engaged Couples, Married Couples: Beware!  If your friend or romance interest or fiancé or spouse refuses to forgive someone, something—however warranted the righteous indignation—YOU, dear friend, dear spouse will be next on the list!  We participate in Love-Forgiveness (I preach this now as ONE WORD) or we do not.  We must cultivate Love-Forgiveness in our hearts and invite loved ones to do the same.

What’s needed for love-forgiveness to reign? Here’s the short list:

  1. Vent, Rage and Cry to the Only Fully Objective Loved One — GOD; Jesus Himself prayed psalms of lament, disappointment.
  2. Secure that God loves you in your anger, your hurt, your betrayal –that God’s love for you is the foundation of your life—pray that you are moved to PITY the one who hurt you. See in him or her a fellow human being who has fallen from grace, given into temptation of selfishness, greed, violence

 

  1. Take TIME OUT, awaiting grace to move you from hurt, and/ or rage to pity and, finally, to tenderness

 

  1. Pray Pity be transformed to TENDERNESS as you would offer tenderness to a disobedient child; everyone has a right to live, to learn, to improve, to encounter God through Love-Forgiveness – In this world of ours, it is one of the primary ways to encounter God.

 

  1. With patience, discern forms of accountability you may eventually offer your assailant or adversary—just as a priest offers penance to sinners in the confessional. As penance offers actions and prayers to help the penitent to both show remorse AND accept accountability for his or actions in praise of God, so, too, must we be “priests to one another,” offer opportunities for change – as you would with a child.

 

  1. Allow for Time to Pass, i.e., GOD’s Time, not “our time,”, for a person to come to a place of reviewing the situation and his or her actions calmly and honestly. Here we must trust in Jesus’ and the Psalms’ constant reminder that God allows the sun to shine on the just and unjust, good and the wicked precisely to allow people to choose to evaluate the harm they’ve done to themselves and others.

 

  1. Even if your health and safety require the relationship to be severed, distant, or irreconcilable– Forgive in your heart, so you are FREE from reliving the hurt, the pain; free to move onward toward a wiser, humbler, more hopeful future.

 

 

As we move through these stages and come to the love-forgiveness act, we are truly FREE. Forgiving another in this way frees us as much, or perhaps even more, than the ones to whom we offer forgiveness.  Not everyone appreciates cosmic grace after all.  There are people who will never admit that they’ve done something wrong. Then, let them be!  You still are free!  Ground your relationship with them on other aspects that you may have in common, change your expectations of them (be more cautious around them if you must) but move on!

This is the invitation of our Christian faith, this is the cross of responsibility in charity and true discipleship. Of course, we don’t often feel like forgiving another, but faith is and must always be more than a feeling.  It’s a decision. It’s a commitment.

Remember: it’s only love-forgiveness” that opens up the future. Through Love-Forgiveness, YOU are the future extending the mercy of God and the promises of Christ: The glorious freedom of being children of God.