etching of Paul in prison studying with the slave Onesimus

What Philemon Taught Me About Grace

For such a small book, there are many lessons in the book of Philemon that apply directly to our daily Christian lives. For me, the biggest of these is a lesson about grace. Philemon teaches us about God’s grace and forgiveness. In turn, that teaches me about the grace and forgiveness I should show others.

Grace from God

Philemon 1–3:

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother: To Philemon our dear friend and coworker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your home.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul opens his letter to Philemon with a statement commending God’s grace and peace to Philemon. This reminder of God’s grace is important because Philemon is going to need to show a great deal of grace himself. For the rest of this letter, Paul doesn’t speak explicitly about the grace of God. Rather, he shows God’s grace working in Philemon.

Philemon 9–16:

I appeal to you, instead, on the basis of love. I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my son, Onesimus. I fathered him while I was in chains. Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful both to you and to me. I am sending him back to you as a part of myself. I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place. But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will. For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave — as a dearly loved brother. He is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

In short, Paul tells Philemon that he met the escaped slave Onesimus, taught Onesimus the gospel, and now sends him back to Philemon as a baptized brother in Christ. He appeals to Philemon to treat him as such and to forgive him for his sins against Philemon.

Keep in mind:

  • Onesimus had broken the law by running.
  • Onesimus had sinned against Philemon by running.
  • He could fix neither while with Paul.
  • Paul taught him and baptized him anyway.

Was Philemon a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16–21) before making things right with his master? Was Philemon truly forgiven of his sins — even the outstanding ones? I’d say yes. Paul calls Philemon “my son” and “part of myself.” He calls Philemon a “dearly beloved brother…both in the flesh and in the Lord.” This is not language to describe someone still lost in their sins. This is language describing someone who has experienced sanctification and whose sins have been blotted out.

We don’t have to have everything figured out and resolved before coming to Christ. We have a High Priest who is sympathetic to our struggles (Hebrews 4:14–16). He knows what it is to be human. Therefore, He extends grace in our time of need. That includes when we need forgiveness. Onesimus receives forgiveness. He still needs to put things right with Philemon, and he intends to do so, but he does so forgiven of his sins.

We too may have long-running challenges or things we still have to put right when we understand our need for God’s grace, but we shouldn’t let those stop us. Repenting of our sins doesn’t mean we come to God in a perfect, spotless state. That would undermine our need for God’s grace. Rather, we come to God with a contrite and humble heart, acknowledging our past sins, and resolving to be better in His name. That is the magnitude of God’s grace.

The Grace We Show Others

We need to show this kind of grace to others as well. That’s what Paul asks Philemon to do in Philemon 17–21:

So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me. And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it — not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self. Yes, brother, may I have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Since I am confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

There are three big points I take out of this:

1. Grace Comes Before Judgment

We can split hairs here as much as we want, but the principle is this: if someone expresses interest in Christ, we should not turn them away because of the sins in their life. We should not deny baptism in Christ because of unresolved wrongs. Yes, we should always work with each other to overcome sin and hold ourselves to a higher standard of conduct, morality, and attitude. But we don’t have to start perfect.

Sometimes we want God to forgive our wrongs and punish those of others. We want God to be patient with us while swift to wrath with others. This is how we often treat sin we see in others — especially sins that make us personally uncomfortable or that we somehow rank as worse than our own. Instead we should see sin the way God does: as a separation from Him, yes, but also an opportunity for grace.

2. Grace Compels Us to Growth

To clarify, this does not contradict Romans 6:1–14. Those of us who have been baptized have died to sin. We therefore work to reject sin in our lives and serve God in purity of heart and conduct. But this is a work in progress. Even Paul never felt he attained perfection. See what Paul says in Philippians 3:12–14:

Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.

We are all works in progress. I still struggle with certain temptations and even sins, and I have to accept the fact that you do too. Your struggles may not be my struggles. Your struggles may be more visible or more currently controversial than mine. But my obligation to show you grace is no less. Onesimus does not return to Philemon a perfect person, but Paul expects Philemon to show him grace the same way God shows grace to all of us.

3. Grace Is Generous

Philemon 17–18:

So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me. And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.

It’s not enough for Paul that Onesimus intends to put things right with Philemon. He offers to set things right on Onesimus’s behalf. It’s not enough to acknowledge someone has to set things right in their lives. We should be the first to offer, “I can help.” In Paul’s case, he writes that he’s willing to pay off any money Onesimus might owe his master. Paul’s statements about wishing to keep Onesimus with him suggests he is even willing to buy Onesimus’s freedom himself.

It’s quite likely Onesimus did take money, at the very least for passage to Rome. On foot, the journey from Colossae to Rome would have taken three or more weeks. If you instead travel across the Aegean and Adriatic seas, it only takes about eight days. Additionally, I think the fact that Paul even writes this demonstrates that he already knows Onesimus owes Philemon recompense. It would have come out in their studies together if Onesimus was as repentant as Paul claims. It’s likely Paul writes this to give Philemon a chance to show additional grace and forgive that debt. True grace makes us generous.

How would you or I respond in a similar situation? A modern equivalent would be to study with and baptize an undocumented immigrant. We know they can’t perpetually live in that state and remain pleasing to God. What then are you willing to do on that person’s behalf? Your answer speaks to the extent you allow grace to drive you.

Grace Covers All

1 Corinthians 15:9–11:

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by God’s grace I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not ineffective. However, I worked more than any of them, yet not I, but God’s grace that was with me. Therefore, whether it is I or they, so we proclaim and so you have believed.

Think about where Paul came from. There was no way Paul could ever undo all the pain he had caused when he persecuted Christians. He could not release all those he imprisoned. He could not bring Stephen back to life. He could not undo the consequences of his past sins. Paul understand the greatness of God’s grace perhaps better than any other New Testament writer because he experienced its extent firsthand.

You can repent from your sins without fixing everything. You may still continue to struggle with sins that you struggled with before baptism. There may be consequences that continue to affect others after baptism. You can even have unresolved problems with a government and still find God’s grace. He can wash us of all these things.

Then the question becomes what you or I do with these unresolved sins. Paul had to find peace with what he could not fix and press forward in His resolve to serve God. Onesimus resolved to put things right — both personally and legally. He would go back to Onesimus, and we never hear the end of that story. It’s not important if we know whether or not Philemon released him. The important thing is Onesimus’s repentance and follow-through.

Would you teach Christ to:

  • Someone in an unscriptural intimate relationship?
  • Someone who has had an abortion?
  • An undocumented immigrant?
  • A long-time drug addict?

Additionally, would you personally help them right what they can? If we are going to show grace in our lives, then the answer to all of these has to be yesWe have to be willing to cover a multitude of sins with our grace and forgiveness just as God has covered ours. God’s grace is great, and the letter to Philemon exemplifies the depth and the extent of that grace. It shows us what it means to live that grace. Sin is terrible, yes, but God’s grace is greater.

Sin is an opportunity for grace. When God forgives us, we have a chance to reflect on grace’s power in our lives. Let’s then use the opportunities we have to extend that grace as well. The world needs grace, and they should experience that grace through grateful recipients of it. They should see grace in us.

“Liberal” Is Not a Bad Word

credit to npr.org
credit to npr.org

What do you think about when you hear the word liberal? I was raised to equate the word with all sorts of negative qualities, and I imagine many of you were too. It was a word that denoted an enemy of truth: “His views are too liberal.” It was a word to discredit political enemies: “Don’t vote for that liberal candidate.” It was a word to identify those congregations: “We can’t visit there. That’s a liberal church of Christ.”

When we use the word liberal, we create all sorts of negative imagery fostered by the past twenty or so years of political culture wars. But this post is not about politics or political philosophy. It is not about sound doctrine or church institutionalization. It’s not about church daycare or charities. It’s about individual Christians being liberal the way God is liberal.

Take a look at a portion of the Sabbath law in Deuteronomy 15:12-15 (NKJV):

If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the LORD has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.

Under the Law of Moses, if I owed you a huge debt, I could indenture myself to you as payment. Then, every Sabbath year, those who owned these indentured servants were to let them go free, but it didn’t stop there. The masters were to liberally supply their former servants from their own blessings. The servants in no way earned this favor; their service was paying off a past debt. Instead, this was supposed to remind both servant and master of God’s blessings to His people. As God was generous to His servants, so His people should be generous too.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

– James 1:2-5 (NKJV)

God is liberal with His gifts for us today as well. Not just in the knowledge of His word, but God is liberal in grace, in forgiveness, and in goodness. All good things are from Him, and He pours His grace and forgiveness on us when we cannot earn it or deserve it (see Romans 5). Like the servant in Deuteronomy, we are undeserving of the gifts He bestows upon us. We have a debt of sin we cannot possibly pay, but God liberally grants us grace and redemption in His Son. We should, therefore, be as liberal with our own gifts.

This means we forgive when we don’t feel the other party deserves it. This means we show kindness and goodness to all around us. This means we assume the best when someone is at their worst, and it means we give of our time and resources to benefit others. The first and easiest way we can practice God’s grace is to give — to individuals, to families, to churches, to charitable causes. We can give our money. We can donate food, books, clothes, and other blessings. We can donate our time. If we cannot liberally give of our physical blessings, how will we ever share our spiritual ones?

I’m a conservative Christian, and I seek to conservatively practice the faith brought by Jesus and practiced by His disciples, but we cannot allow conservatism to become a stumbling block. While we seek to conservatively preserve God’s way and prevent worldly influences from corrupting the gospel of hope, let’s also take note of the ways we should be liberal — in our giving, in forgiveness, with grace, with goodness.

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; m he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; o he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Romans 12:6-8 (NKJV)

Forgive & Forget

1062px-Aerial_photo_of_WTC_groundzero

Quoting Jeremiah, Hebrews 8:9 states:

I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.

Twelve years ago today, I was running late to work when I heard Gold 104.5 DJ Bruce Elscott break the news that the Word Trace Center had been hit by an airplane. The news was confusing, at first being reported as a possible accident. There were varying reports about the size of the plane. Was it commercial or private? The assumption was not one of intended violence until the second plane hit. Then the world stopped as it became apparent the towers would not stand. They were coming down, and the potential death toll was staggering. Between the hundreds in the planes and the thousands in the Word Trade Center, this would be a wound that would leave the United States reeling. And I had to now go work with a group of first graders as if nothing had happened.

In the years that have followed, we’ve heard the mantra Never Forget repeated every anniversary of the event. Never forget the lives that were lost. Never forget those who self-sacrificially tried to rescue who they could. Never forget a million different lessons – good and bad – that we can derive from the event. Unfortunately, when we say, “Never forget,” often an spoken addendum lingers in our minds – Never Forgive.

Jesus has a great deal to say about forgiveness and how we treat those who mistreat us in the Sermon on the Mount.

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:21-24

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14-15

When we forgive as the Lord forgives, we put the past behind us. The memory of past offenses will always be there, but we can choose to forget the emotions tied up around the event. I can choose to forget hatred and instead focus on compassion. I can choose to forget anger and instead choose love. I can choose to forget the horror and instead recall the bravery, selflessness, and heroism of the day. In the years to follow, we have been taught to fear and mistrust Muslims.  Jesus says to love and pray. We have been taught to retaliate. Jesus says to forgive. If we cannot forgive, love, and pray, then we have no place coming to God and expecting Him to provide the mercy we deny others.

Today is a day marked by pain. But we can heal. God’s grace heals us, and part of that healing is turning his grace to others. I may never forget the flashbulb memories associated with the attack on the World Trade Center. I may never forget the news coverage to follow. I may never forget the lives that were lost. But I can choose to forget my feelings toward those who committed the act. I can choose to forget my own feelings of anger and animosity. And I can choose forgiveness over these things.

 

 

Lessons from Daniel Tiger: Find a Way to Play Together

DanielTiger

In another episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, the kids are playing house at preschool when Prince Wednesday storms in roaring. He wants to pretend to be a dinosaur, but the others are worried his roaring will wake the pretend baby. Katarina doesn’t want Wednesday to play with them at all, but Teacher Harriet encourages them to find a way to play together. Prince Wednesday decides to be a quiet dinosaur, and all is right with the world in the Land of Make Believe.

Solutions may not be so easy in the real world, but I sometimes worry that we Christians are too quick to throw up walls when disagreements arise. Whether they are differences over the correct distribution of the Lord’s Supper, times of worship, the number of times we gather on Sundays, which benevolent opportunities to pursue, or even secular issues like politics – we often find it easier to disfellowship than work things out together or simply drop or concede a point of contention. Instead of finding a way to play together, we’re guilty of gathering up our toys and going someplace else. The result is congregations that shrink and swell based largely on whoever is refusing to worship with whom at any given time.

Jesus’ apostles were a diverse group, and they were prone to disagreements. When these arose, however, Jesus did not separate them into different groups. He didn’t cater to the arguments. Instead, He refocused their minds away from their contentions and onto things above. Even when Paul and Barnabas separate ways over a disagreement regarding John Mark, they all eventually end up reunited as a Christian family. Disagreements arise. Some are more legitimate than others, but we cannot view each other as disposable in these times. You are vital to my salvation, and I hope you see me as vital to yours.

You and I may have a lot of differences. We may have different opinions about the age of our world, about environmentalism and humane treatment of animals, on gun control, on immigration, on taxation, on head coverings, on hymns versus praise songs, on any number of things – but those differences cannot and must not define our relationship in Christ. If we’re going to get to Heaven together, then we have to find a way to set our differences aside and get along in this world. We have to find a way to play together.

18,000 Light Years

I once heard an astronomer explain that we can’t help but live in the past – in a very literal sense. Every point of light we see in the sky happened in the past. If we are looking at a star that’s 18,000 light years away, then we are looking at light that began to travel from its point of origin 18,000 years ago. If we were closer to the star, it might look different. It might not even exist at all anymore, but we won’t know about any of those changes for 18,000 years.

All light takes time to travel. Even when you look up at the sun, what you see is what the sun looked like eight minutes ago. Even my talking to you is happening in the past. You are hearing and seeing everything I do after I do it. Nothing is truly simultaneous. We perceive nothing instantaneously. Even if the delay is imperceptible to our senses – for we have thoroughly adapted to the lag in which we live – it still exists. Every piece of stimuli in our environment has happened in the past, so we can’t help but live in the past.

Unfortunately, we probably spend too much time living in the past emotionally and spiritually. We still react to mistakes, stumbles, frustrations, and obstacles that should now be light years behind us are still clearly in our sights. Imagine if Paul had dwelled on the past. How crippled would he have been as a servant of Christ? Here was someone who had fought against Christianity, who had helped torture and kill Christians, who took pride in the harm he would inflict on Christians.

Here was his approach, though, in I Timothy 1:12-17:

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.

Paul makes some similar statements in Philippians 3:7-11:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Paul recognized his past. He recognized how he got to where he was, but he didn’t live there. His past could not be escaped, but he put it light years behind him so he could focus on the future. It should be the same for every one of us. We all have our own baggage, our own issues, our own histories. But those pasts are not what define us any more than the reality of a star 18,000 light years away is governed by what we see from our perspective here on Earth.

Instead, we should be reaching for a future ahead of us, a hope that nothing else can offer us. That future should be our reality. It should be what defines us, and that should be what motivates us every day.

Never Forgive

We seem to be a species with short memories, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there is one standout exception. We have long memories when it comes to things that hurt us. I may not recall that my wife got me my favorite cupcakes on December 7, 2003, but I’ll sure remember that Preacher Joe said something from the pulpit that will make me never want to worship with him again. Also, I may quickly forget how I wronged someone ten years ago while their own faults pop into my mind whenever I think of them.

The same goes for events on a grander scale. Few probably know that September 11, 1940 was the first time in history a computer was operated remotely. That date in 1944 marked the first U.S. troops entering Germany. September 11, 1971 saw the signing of the first Egyptian constitution. San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit System opened September 11, 1972. The first East German refugees contained in Hungary were allowed to escape to West Germany on September 11, 1989. In fact, September 11 will be remembered in various places and by numerous people for several reasons – both good and bad – but those of us in the United States define it by one event.

In remembering the tragedy of September 11, 2001, we have borrowed the refrain used for decades in reference to the Holocaust: “Never forget.” It is a pain easily brought to mind for those of us who lived the events, but I fear we also honor the unsaid portion of the refrain. “Never forget. Never forgive.” What’s worse is that we find ways to justify our unforgiving attitudes by appealing to secular standards of justice, to patriotism, or by even misapplying scripture. We seek to have elephant-like memories about the pain in our lives, and we refuse forgiveness while holding to those hostile thoughts.

Forgiving to Be Forgiven

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus says:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

– Matthew 6:14-15

Jesus says similar things in Mark 11:20-25, and Jesus emphasizes the importance of forgiveness for forgiveness in Matthew 18:21-35. Here, Jesus makes His famous seventy-times-seven statement, and He follows this with a story of a servant who could not pay his debts to his master. The master forgives the debt, but the servant then goes to one who owes him a debt and has that person thrown into prison for not paying the debt. The master learns of this and turns his anger toward the servant he had once forgiven. The lesson to us is simple – if we expect forgiveness from God, we must first be willing to be forgiving. This includes those who hurt us, use us, and intend harm upon us.

We all know the things taught in Luke 6, but read them and consider how we must look at the events of September 11 with a Christian mindset.

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

 If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

 Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.

– Luke 6:27-38

Forgetting for Forgiveness

We must forgive, and, if we do so, we have to be willing to put some things behind us. In a post about Jewish author/illustrator Rami Efal, Marc Sobel of The Comics Journal writes:

Returning to the graphic novel, Efal tells us on the back cover that the book’s title, “Never Forget, Never Forgive,” was a mantra he heard repeatedly by his parents, who are Holocaust survivors, while growing up in Israel. This attitude…is a viewpoint shared by many Jewish citizens in Israel, particularly those who were survivors themselves, or children raised by survivors. These men and women are, sadly, a generation poisoned by the war’s after-effects, unwilling to “forgive” the perpetrators of the atrocity, and unable to “forget” the memory of their extensive loss.

Later in the post, Rami Efal is quoted as saying:

If I perpetuate anger, violence, and confusion within me, then I perpetuate anger, violence and confusion in the universe, period. I am interested in leaping out of this cycle.

We have to ask ourselves what is more important to us: holding onto a pain that is dear to us – holding onto the anger, the animosity, the hatred – or letting go and embracing the perspective God expects from us.

Wisdom; Not Emotion

As painful events melt into the past, whether they are personal or collective, we can find opportunity to release the negative emotions that seized our minds and clouded our judgment when the events were fresh. There’s is no reason we should lament the fact that we are not as angry or impassioned about events that happened a decade or more ago. It gives us chance to allow wisdom to better inform our decisions and our feelings. If we can finally lay anger aside, if we can cease to let anger cloud our judgment, then we can fogive as God would have us forgive. In turn, we will be letting God’s forgiveness back into our own lives as well.

I can’t help but think of Jesus hanging on the cross, in excruciating pain, mocked by rulers and by His own countryman, left to die by those closest to Him, an innocent victim of an unjust and cruel system, the sacrifice to a bloodthirsty crowd. At a moment when any of us would have longed for vengeance, would have felt justified hoping for the deaths and condemnations of those inflicting such pain, Jesus calls for their forgiveness. His love overrides animosity. His wisdom drives out vindictiveness. He forgives when forgiveness seems impossible.

We have to be able to forgive, even those who we feel have hurt us the most, even those we feel would never repent of their actions, even those who set themselves at enmity with us. Returning to the words of Rami Efal, very reminiscent of that sermon by Jesus recorded in Luke 6:

Whom will one forgive if not one’s enemies?