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  • David Carlson

428 The heart of justice is found in forgiveness that is given unconditionally

Day 428: Tuesday, May 18th, 2021

The heart of justice is found in forgiveness that is given unconditionally

“As the Father Has Sent Me, So I Send You”

A Native American tribe was fiercely attacked, leaving the devastated tribe with little on which to survive, as they ran for their lives. The tribal chief and his granddaughter got into a canoe and rowed for hours until they reached safe harbor. The chief had lost his spouse, all his sons, daughters, and grandchildren. He was left with one granddaughter and few supplies. As they were resting, his granddaughter said to him in painful tears, “Grandfather, what is happening in your heart now?”

He said, “I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One is the wolf of vengeance. The other is the wolf of forgiveness.” She said, “Grandfather, which one will win?” He said, “The one I feed. The one I feed.”

How does the Day of Pentecost begin in John 20:19-23? The answer: the disciples are behind locked doors for fear of the authorities. Maybe the disciples were afraid of the authorities. Maybe they thought they might be next for the cross. If my teacher was arrested and crucified, I’d be afraid too.

Yet, could the disciples be behind locked doors, less so for fear of the police, and more so for fear of Jesus? Let’s ponder that for a minute. Jesus told them a few times that this was coming. He told them that he was on a collision course with the authorities in Jerusalem who would arrest him, put him on trial, persecute him, crucify him. And he told them he would be raised three days later. However, I think Jesus could have told me this was coming multiple times and I would have still freaked out when it happened.

How did the disciples respond? At the Last Supper, the disciples, led by Peter, testified that they would suffer and die with Jesus. Yet, Jesus called Peter out, telling him that he would deny Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. Peter did deny Jesus, which left Peter sobbing in grief. Judas betrayed Jesus, handing him over to the Jewish authorities who handed him over to the Roman authorities who crucified Jesus. Some defended Jesus with the sword and the other disciples were scattered, running away in fear when the Shepherd Jesus was struck and arrested.

So, let’s put ourselves in the place of Jesus here. Imagine that you or I were in his shoes, that we had been arrested, tried, flogged, and crucified. All the while, my closest friends and disciples, while telling me that they would embrace death with me, deserted me and ran away, concerned only about their self-preservation. Undergoing the torture of Gethsemane, flogging, and crucifixion, while being abandoned by my friends, would probably cause deep resentment in me. If I was then raised from the dead, I would be tempted to then stand on the parapet of the Jerusalem Temple, looking at my friends and disciples, asking, “Where were you when I was being flogged? Where were you when I was tortured to death on that cross? Now, you are going to pay!” I am not sure that I would ultimately say that, but I would be tempted.

Again, I ask: were the disciples behind locked doors for fear of the Jews? Or, out of fear of Jesus whom they abandoned, denied, and betrayed? Maybe it was some of both but, to be frank, I would be more scared of Jesus than of the Jewish authorities at that point, fearing the possibility of retributive justice coming from Jesus, as we hear from God in Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is mine.”

So what is Jesus’ first response to his disciples when he appears to them in this passage? He says, “Peace be with you.” He shows them his wounds, indicating that the Risen Jesus is the Crucified Jesus. And he says those amazing four words again,

“Peace be with you.”

Jesus never mentions the denial by Peter, the betrayal by Judas, or the abandonment by the other disciples. He never mentions it! What wondrous love is this!

What an embrace of forgiveness that restores life by Jesus. True justice that is grounded in forgiveness heals and gives life. How do we know this? The disciples rejoiced in joy when they realized that it was Jesus and, I suggest, realizing that they were forgiven by him.

Forgiveness is the bedrock of justice, for it sets the forgiver and the forgiven free to love.

In our world, and tragically in the Church, we often embrace a retributive form of justice: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. We often harbor grudges against those who have hurt us and our loved ones. It is this festering resentment that corrodes the human heart.

It is resentment that refuses to forgive, even after expressing anger and seeks accountability as Jesus did, that often leads to our striking out against those who have wounded us, perpetuating the cycle of violence and hatred in a world that longs for forgiveness and healing from violence and strife.

After saying, “Peace be with you” two times, Jesus sends his disciples in mission with, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Now, wait a minute. What did Jesus do? He healed people from infirmities like blindness, the inability to walk, and others. He raised the dead. Do I have this correct? He wants us, his disciples, to do this? How will we do this? Then, Jesus breathed on them, saying,

“Receive the Holy Spirit.” That is how we will do the things that Jesus did: through the power of the Spirit.

Yet, Jesus goes even further, telling us that those whom we forgive will be forgiven and those whose sins we retain will be retained. I suggest that Jesus is asking us, “What kind of community do you want to build? Do we want a community that holds grudges where forgiveness is earned through merit that is essentially an eye for an eye, which is retributive justice? Is that healing our world today?”

Could Jesus be saying to us: “The heart of justice is found in forgiveness that is given unconditionally. As I forgave you, my first disciples, who betrayed, denied, and abandoned me, so I am sending you as the Father sent me, that is, to forgive unconditionally.

Do people need to be held accountable? Yes. Should we encourage people to take abuse and simply address it with forgiveness? No. We should seek accountability in love for all injuries that we experience. And, we should eventually move to forgiveness, for as Nelson Mandela repeatedly told his fellow South African citizens, “It is only through forgiveness that we will be free.”

If we truly long for restorative justice in our world, I invite us to embrace Jesus’ call to forgive, as he unconditionally forgave all those he encountered, while calling everyone to accountability.

If you want peace, work for justice.

If you want justice, work for reconciliation.

If you want reconciliation, work for forgiveness.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

By Jay Freel Landry

Jay Freel Landry is married to Deb and they have two adult daughters. He has been in parish ministry for a while, journeying in making disciples as he himself seeks to grow as a disciple of Jesus. JustFaith has been a significant part of Jay's journey. He is currently the Director of Discipleship at Holy Apostles Catholic Church in New Berlin, Wisconsin.

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