The difficulties in forgiveness: An Easter addendum

By The Rev. Jeremy Myers

There are few acts of grace that are more difficult to give, to request or to receive than forgiveness.

When we are the ones who are wronged, it is difficult to see beyond the hurt and bitterness that so quickly seep into our hearts and minds. Most of us want to move past the issue, but it is so hard to restore trust once it has been betrayed. When we are the ones who have wronged others, it is difficult to humble ourselves enough to admit we are at fault and to own our failure.

Many times, we would rather live in the shadow of our own guilt and bear the weight of awkward interactions (or avoidance) than take responsibility for our actions and seek reconciliation. When forgiveness is offered, it’s often difficult to believe the offense has truly been forgiven and equally difficult to accept the relationship has been restored.

As we come to the end of the Easter season, I want to take one last look back at a few aspects of the narrative of the crucifixion and the events immediately following.

In them, I believe we see the difficulty of seeking and receiving forgiveness but also the depths of the love of Christ and his determination to offer forgiveness. Jesus taught that we are to forgive as we are forgiven. So it would stand to reason that we should replicate the same grace we see demonstrated in him.

One of the most striking and startling moments of the whole crucifixion narrative takes place as Jesus is suffering on the cross. The gospel of Luke paints a picture for us. Jesus is hanging on the cross, battered and beaten beyond recognition and dying a slow and agonizing death.

Somewhere nearby, the soldiers who had administered the beating and who had nailed Jesus to the cross are playing games to decide who gets to keep Jesus’ clothes. In this moment, Luke tells us that Jesus offers up a prayer. He says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Not to argue with Jesus, but those boys knew exactly what they were doing. If they knew anything, it was how to administer pain and shame. But to Jesus’ point, they didn’t realize to whom they were doing it.

In the grand scheme of things, though, what would matter most to us is that they were at fault. They were the ones doing it. If any number of us were in Jesus’ place, we would be calling down condemnation and curses. Jesus, however, offers forgiveness to those who certainly didn’t deserve it and who clearly weren’t seeking it as they were wronging him.

We can’t control who will seek or receive forgiveness from us, but we can make it readily available for when they do. This is one of the great graces of the cross: Forgiveness is available should we decide to receive it.

Another instance that often comes to mind takes place shortly after the resurrection. Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, had insisted he would never abandon Jesus, even if everyone else did and even if it meant death for him. Not only did Peter bail on Jesus, on three different occasions, he went to great lengths trying to prove he didn’t even know him.

The gospel of John indicates Peter doesn’t think himself worthy to be a disciple, so he goes back to his old job of fishing. Jesus shows up on shore one morning and calls to the boat. When Peter realizes it’s Jesus, he jumps in and begins to swim to shore. Once there, they have breakfast, which Jesus has prepared for them, and Peter and Jesus have a conversation.

Rather than calling Peter out for his failure, Jesus calls Peter back into relationship. Jesus doesn’t highlight the distance between them, but instead tries to restore their closeness. Three times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Three times, Peter answers in the affirmative. Three times, Jesus invites Peter to once again take his place in the crew.

Though Jesus was wronged, he made the effort to make things right. Peter had to do the difficult work of accepting that forgiveness. We must remember there is usually a struggle on both sides of any broken relationship. And we need to seek the strength and grace to do our part for restoration to take place.

Forgiveness is a heavy burden to bear, but if we are truly to take up our cross and follow Jesus, it is a cross we’re called to carry. We must be willing to humbly receive it, and we must be willing to graciously and freely offer it.

Unforgiveness is often referred to as a poison. I think that’s inaccurate. I believe it’s a sickness and it is extremely contagious. Jesus, the great physician, came to heal all of our sickness, most notably those deriving from our sin.

As we accept the forgiveness he offers us and extend it to others around us, we begin to bring healing into our broken and divided world. Forgiveness has been offered. Forgiveness must be received. Forgiveness needs to be shared.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].