[Editor's Note: This article is the first in a five-part series on the theme "Being a Man of Forgiveness."]
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 5:38-42).
When we read Jesus’ words like the ones above, it is easy to think in our minds: “Is Jesus serious? Even if he is talking about avoiding vengeance, this is still hard to swallow. What about terrorists? What about the guy next door who has it out for me? What about cases of abuse, bitter divorce situations, betrayal by a friend or a spouse, or racial or political injustices? Globally, what about cases such as the situations in Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, and Rwanda?” In these extreme situations, or in our everyday family, work, or social life, we can be deeply wounded or hurt by others or circumstances.
Human logic says don’t forgive and cries out for justice “they betrayed me, hurt me, rejected me, and wronged me they in justice need to pay for that.” Does Jesus really expect me to turn the other cheek to insults and injuries? Doesn’t he know how difficult it can be to say, “I forgive you”?
Let’s face it. This is a hard teaching. But it’s not one that we can ignore. After all, Jesus didn’t avoid it. Without ever looking like a wimp, he showed that radical forgiveness is possible. Furthermore, he marked out the way to attain it by loving. Love kept him going through all the hardships involved in announcing the kingdom. Love made it possible for him to forgive, even as he hung on the cross. This forgiveness cancelled the debt of sin that none of us were capable of repaying. And if we decide to accept this hard teaching, the love of Jesus at work in us will help us put it into practice too.
Forgiveness, a Christian Way of Life
Christian life is founded on forgiveness freely given to an undeserving people that's all of us. To put it simply, forgiveness is an enormous gift that none of us deserved. Forgiveness is one of the most fundamental aspects of life in his kingdom. And mercy is the constitution and charter of that kingdom. None of us can experience its blessings without sharing with one another the forgiveness so freely given to us. In fact, Jesus said that if we want to know the peace and joy of his kingdom, then we must forgive, and forgive often.
Every day we face sins and temptations that would prevent us from giving and receiving the love and forgiveness that are so vital. And experience tells us how easy it can be to give in to these temptations and hurt the ones we love in the process. This is why Jesus' teaching on forgiving one another, as hard as it may be, is so important. Forgiveness tempers justice with mercy. It frees us from bitterness and ill will and opens us up to sharing the love we all crave. Forgiving someone who has wronged us is like canceling a debt. It costs something initially, but the long-term benefits are priceless: reconciliation, peace, unity, and a love that has been tested by fire.
Jesus' words about forgiveness aren't just theoretical. Have you ever noticed that when the thought of someone who has wronged you and whom you haven't forgiven comes up, you experience physical changes? Your heart beats a little faster. Your breathing becomes more rapid. Your body becomes tense, and your face droops a bit. Now, think about what happens in your mind. You might rehearse the wrong done against you over and over. You might recount the reasons why this person doesn't deserve mercy. You might even begin to think negatively of that person's friends and family.
Now try to imagine what happens on the spiritual level. Think about how much harder it is to trust in God's love. Think about how much more difficult it is to know the peace of Christ or to feel the movements of the Holy Spirit. All because of unforgiveness.
There is real power in the words “I forgive.” No matter how difficult it is to say them. Are you bound by anger, resentment? Do you have others bound by your unforgiving nature? The desire of God’s heart is to bring you full healing, peace, and restoration to accepting forgiveness for yourselves and to forgive others. We can not achieve this if we are controlled by human logic. It can only be achieved by the logic of God’s love poured into us by the Holy Spirit.
I once heard a wise pastor say, “Justice is good, but mercy is better.” James 2:13 expresses it this way, “Mercy triumphs over justice!” God is “just” so his justice had to be fulfilled for the whole human race. How was the justice fulfilled? Jesus did this by taking onto himself the punishment for our sins. So that justice could be done, he died in our place. God, by the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus has given us a gift that we don’t deserve forgiveness. Out of gratefulness to God for this gift, can we not do the same to others? Take this step now and you will experience a breakthrough in your life.
Lord Jesus, I believe that you are the mercy of God. By your Spirit, teach me to walk in your mercy so that I will know your freedom. Lord, help me to forgive. May all who have hurt me or caused me grief know the power and freedom of your mercy, love, and forgiveness.
(This article by Maurice Blumberg was part of the Catholic Men’s E-zine, Being a Man of Forgiveness, (September-October 2002 issue) which is available on the NFCM website. You may e-mail them at email@example.com. Many thanks to the The Word Among Us for allowing us to include some material from various daily meditations.)
Reflection Questions on Page 2
Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
1. Why do you feel that we as men tend toward “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” and revenge, when we have been wronged? How can we overcome these instincts and inclinations to offer forgiveness to those who have wronged us, especially when “Human logic says don’t forgive and cries out for justice”?
2. Explain what is meant by “forgiveness is an enormous gift that none of us deserved.” Why is it important to understand this, if we are to give this same gift of forgiveness to others?
3. In what ways does an unforgiving nature have negative impacts on our physical and spiritual health and on those we have not forgiven? In what ways does forgiveness free us, and those we have forgiven, from these negative affects?
4. Why is Jesus the “model of a man of forgiveness”? How did his words and actions demonstrate his loyalty to his heavenly Father? Are you willing to follow his example? Why or why not?
5. If it has been some time since you experienced Jesus’ forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, try to avail yourself of this healing sacrament as soon as possible. Share the impact of receiving this sacrament at your next men’s group meeting.