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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

341: It's hard to forget, but forgiveness is something you do for yourself - Azim Khamisa

Day 341: Saturday, February 20th, 2021

It's hard to forget, but forgiveness is something you do for yourself - Azim Khamisa

Yesterday we remembered the terrible day when President Roosevelt condemned the Japanese living on the West Coast to concentration camps. I have a friend who started life in one of those camps. When asked about her experience she says simply "I remember the hurt in my parents' eyes when they recount that history, but we, as a community choose to forgive."

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning.- Martin Luther King Jr.

Forgiveness - not forgetting but forgiving.

Forgiveness runs all through Scripture. It is, in a way, the whole point of the story of the Bible. The revelation we find in the sacred words is the story of an all-loving God forgiving a sinful humanity and reconciling them to himself and one another. God is, in short, in the forgiveness business.

Do not forgive seven times,

but seventy times seven times.

When, in the fullness of time, Jesus came to save us, central to his ethical teachings is the forgiveness of wrongs done. St. Peter, perhaps thinking himself very charitable and gracious indeed, asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brothers sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” But Jesus replied to him, “not seven times, but seventy times seven times.” (Mt 18.21-22)

The author and activist Jim Forest writes that “the Greek word used in the Our Father for ‘forgive,’ aphiemi, means simply to let go, set aside or leave behind. The verb, understood in its Greek sense, reminds us that forgiveness is, like love, not a feeling, but an action involving the will rather than our emotions.” And Jesus is saying, If you want to be forgiven, you must also forgive those who have wronged you.

Though I am a Catholic priest, I have the great honor of working at an Anglican seminary. They have a beautiful custom in their rite of reconciliation, found in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer. After the penitent has confessed her sins, the priest will ask, “Do you, then, forgive those who have sinned against you?” Only after an affirmative answer does the priest pronounce absolution.

Forgiveness is, like love, not a feeling, but an action involving the will rather than our emotions.

The parable of the unforgiving servant reminds us of the proper order of reconciliation. The king who wishes to settle accounts with his servants finds that a servant owes him 10,000 talents—an impossible sum for an ordinary laborer to pay back. And the king, showing mercy, simply forgives the debt, just like that.

And then the servant finds a fellow servant who owes him 100 denarii, about four months’ wages. Not a meager sum, but by no means impossible to repay. And the wicked servant has this man thrown into debtor’s prison “until he should pay all his debt.”

It is a clear story with an obvious moral. We, who have been forgiven an infinite and unpayable debt of our sins are expected to forgive those who sin against us. So rather than seeing our forgiveness of others as the condition for God’s forgiveness, we see that in the economy of God’s salvation, the order is the other way around:

God’s forgiveness is the cause and empowerment of our forgiveness of others.

God never demands of us what he has not first done.

We, who have been forgiven an unpayable debt are expected to forgive those who sin against us.

We all know the experience of being wronged. Some of us know it all too painfully. The betrayal of a friend. An offense right within our own families. A sibling. A parent. A spouse. Maybe slander at work, a reputation sullied, a confidence betrayed. Or maybe you do not harbor anything that big. But there is that one person, a colleague or superior who is just, day after day, hurtful or demanding or harsh or unkind. Maybe you have had the experience, as I have, of the person who, just by being the same room as you, gets your adrenaline flowing and your heart rate up. How am I to forgive such a person?

The answer is found in the compassion of God. We have been forgiven. We have been bought at a price. Like the servant who owed 10,000 talents, we have been freed; and that means we’re in a place to forgive others. We have been empowered to forgive because we ourselves are not stuck in a debtor’s prison. “For freedom Christ has set us free,” as St. Paul put it.

Lent is a time to bring those grudges that we might hold and let them go.

Lent is a good time, in the silence of our hearts, to bring before God those grudges that we might hold and let them go.

And perhaps, if the grudge is significant enough, now is the time to seek out those who have wronged us, and forgive them. And we must see this effort not as some burden that is too great to bear, but as the releasing of a burden that we may already bear.


Go to the Limits of Your Longing


God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

- Rainer Maria Rilke


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