St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity, 2013

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“Hadjirat, Grozny and forgiveness...”

I speak in the name of Jesus the Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
What does it mean to forgive one another?

I have had both the privilege and responsibility of leading and contributing to the formation of young minds over the last twenty years. About ten years ago I came across a documentary entitled, “A Child’s Century of War”. This documentary attempts to show similarities and differences with regards to how children have been affected in wars over the centuries. What is startling, and concerning, is that for the first time in the history of humankind, our children are now bearing the brunt of our wars. This powerful documentary, which I would encourage you to watch, interviews young children around the world who have experienced living through a war, sometimes more than one. Interviews include children from the West Bank of Hebron, Grozny and Serbia, as well as Sierra Leone in Africa. Having shown this documentary to my Grade Seven class for the last ten years and then encouraging them to write a personal reflection, one interview on this documentary comes to mind and continues to haunt me to this day. The camera focuses on a beautiful young man, aged thirteen years old. His name is Hadjirat and he is a refugee from the war in Grozny. The interview takes place inside a refugee tent camp in the middle of winter. This young man is surrounded by tents, mud and an air of resigned hopelessness. The interviewer asks the young man about his experience of the war and he replies something along the following words... “I have lost everything in this war. I have lost both my parents. I have lost all three of my brothers. I have lost my home and my family. I have nothing.” The camera pans away from the boy’s face as his tears flow freely and he makes a vain attempt to wipe them away with his sleeve. After a short interlude lasting a few seconds, the camera refocuses on the young man. The interviewer, obviously trying to remain sensitive to the boy’s vulnerable emotional condition, then asks very quietly, “What do you wish for in the future?” The young man looks directly at the camera, tears flowing down his cheeks and replies with all the sincerity that his broken heart is able to muster...
 “I want revenge...”

What does it mean to forgive one another?

In today’s Gospel reading we are told of the well known and loved story of how Jesus is asked about forgiveness. The message of this parable is clear. Here the Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a king who is keen to settle his debts. The example used in the parable relates to money, which many of us can relate to today. It is interesting to note that the Jewish tradition limited forgiveness to three times. (Amos 1:3, 6, 9 refers). Peter assumed that he was being extremely generous by forgiving seven times over as opposed to three times. Jesus replies that he should be forgiving seventy times seven. This would imply unlimited forgiving! Jesus was telling Peter to rather focus on forgiving than to focus on keeping a record of how many times he has forgiven someone.
No one says that it is easy to forgive. It is very, very hard. I can personally attest to struggling with this gracious virtue. Our brains, by their very nature, have evolved over millions of years in a way that is beneficial to ensure our survival. The result is that a tiny part of our brain, namely the amygdala, controls our basic instincts, including our flight or flee syndrome. I would suggest that the intense and powerful emotion of revenge is strongly encouraged by our amygdala. The problem is that our executive thinking powers, including our notion to forgive one another, is controlled by our frontal lobe. When the going gets tough, it is often our reptilian brain, the amygdala that takes control of our responses.

Jesus knew that to forgive one another was one of the most difficult things to do. Yet He continued to set the example of forgiveness. Jesus, the Son of Man, fully God, yet fully human, knew that forgiving one another demanded integrity, faith and a deep rooting in the Holy Spirit. It may be suggested that forgiveness is one of the core themes of His preaching.
What does it mean for us to forgive one another?

There is little doubt, in my humble opinion, that as imperfect human beings, we are incapable of granting full and meaningful forgiveness to one another without the Holy Spirit in our hearts. The attraction of revenge and payback are often overwhelming. All of us have experienced this powerful emotion at some point in our lives. Psychologists have acknowledged the importance of forgiveness as well. They have realised that holding onto past hurts causes a focus of our energy on a negative part of our lives. This stops us from moving forward in our lives, hinders our relationships, hinders us from using our God-given gifts and hinders us from reaching our full potential. Most disturbingly, it hinders us from our communion with God.

So, how do we then go about forgiving one another?
1) Pray about your hurt daily. Hand over the experience to God in your prayers and daily reflections. Allow the Holy Spirit to lift your heart and give you peace on the matter. This takes perseverance and faith that God will honour you. He will. I promise.
2) Seek guidance and counselling from a trusted figure if you are really struggling to move forward with your life. During and after my divorce I entered into deep therapy for close on two years. My Fellowship of Vocation wardens later admitted to me that they saw it as a sign of strength, not weakness, that I was willing to seek help in my life.
3) Give yourself time. There is an old adage that says time will heal everything. As time passes by you will find that the raw emotion that we first experienced slowly tempers into a fading memory.
4) Forgive does not necessarily mean forget... a friend of mine recently had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz. He told me how when he was walking alone through the camp, he stopped and closed his eyes. He could hear birds singing. He suddenly realised that life goes on... yes he had made the effort to remember the past hurt, but he also came to realise that life continued. Life has taught you a lesson. Remember the lesson. Look after your heart!
5) Lastly, reach out to those who are hurting. Help them on their journey to forgive one another. You may just be that person that stops them from picking up that gun and taking revenge.

Jesus understands our pain. He lived the pain. He understands how frail and fallen we are. Yet, through the strength of the Holy Spirit, love and support from one another in our Christian community, prayer and focus on Him, we can all walk this road together, supporting one another when one of us hurts and struggles to forgive. This is ultimately what the Christian faith is all about... supporting one another, in the love of Christ, along the road of life. No one said it would be easy, but it is achievable when we keep our eyes focussed on the Cross of Jesus.

I have no idea what became of Hadjirat. I pray for him often. He would be in his early twenties now. He may have indeed taken revenge and now sits with the blood of others on his hands. He may be dead and thus finally have found peace. He may have seen the light, through the community of other and love of God and moved on with his life in a positive and fulfilling manner that brings glory to God. Whatever the situation, I pray for him, for I have no idea how I might have reacted should our lives have been swapped around...

And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
Are you giving God every opportunity to support you in your journey of forgiveness?

May God bless you this week as you work through your life issues, past and present. May He give you the strength and insight to grow in His light and faith as we all deal with the harsh realities of life.

Amen.
 

 

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