A modern interpretation of Luke 6:27-36

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Listen!

Love your enemies. Love those who you disagree strongly with. Love those who hate you. Love those who hurt you. Love those who ignore you. Love those who discount you. Love those who see you as worthless, or worth less. Love those who are hard to love.

Pray for those who treat you badly. Pray for those who speak ill of you. Pray for those who demonise you. Pray for those who take from you without giving. Pray for those who couldn’t care less about you. Pray for those who it is difficult to pray for.

Don’t return pain with pain, insult with insult, violence with violence, hate with hate, ignorance with ignorance. Return all these things with love, patience and grace.

It’s easy for us to love our friends and family, anybody can do that, but it’s Christ-like to love and pray for those who we see as the enemy.

So, love and pray for the political opponent, the racist, the sexist, the homophobe, the islamophobe, the anti-semite, the extremist, the newspaper columnist, the paedophile, the burglar, the murderer, the internet troll, the bitter ex, the greedy, the selfish, the malicious gossip or the control freak.

Do it without expecting any thanks or reward from them for it.

Do it because your reward comes from God.

Do it because it’s right.

Do it because you know, deep down, that you need someone to do it for you, despite all your failings.

Do it to show love and mercy in the way your Father shows love and mercy for you.

Can everybody be forgiven?

  
To err is human, to forgive is divine.

The old saying is as true as they come. Screwing up is the easiest thing in the world, some of us are naturals at it. Forgiving, however, is nigh on impossible at times. Especially if the person you need to forgive is yourself.

The issue of forgiveness came up in Cole Moreton’s recent interview with Chris Langham for the Independant. Langham, a successful comedy actor and writer, was jailed in 2006 for downloading indecent images of children. He went from having a career which was at its height (he’d won two BAFTAs just days before his arrest for his role in the political satire The Thick Of It) to being, understandably, a total pariah.

Despite the judge in the case ruling that Langham was not a paedophile (his defence was that he was researching a role) there is no doubt that his crime helped to perpetuate the abuse of very young children. For this, and his self-professed “arrogance” in thinking he could get away with it, he appears to be extremely repentant. His wife and children have, admirably in my opinion, stood by him and he is now trying to raise money to make a film about the remarkable Lifeline Nehemiah project in Sierrs Leone.

He appears to be trying to rebuild his life, yet one very telling line from the interview betrays an awful truth,

“I am not to be forgiven. That has been made clear to me.”

Not to be forgiven. He has committed a crime so heinous, so unspeakable, that forgiveness just isn’t possible.

In the case of those who commit sexual crimes against children the offences are, in our society, pretty much the worst you can commit. Few other crimes would lead to virtual unemployability, threats of violence, vandalism to property or the possibility of being chased by the press in the same way paedophiles or others convicted of offences similar to Langham go through. Even murderers can find redemption sometimes, just look at the career convicted murderer Leslie Grantham managed to have.

Is any crime, however, unforgivable? Is there anything one person can do which means that they can never take place in society, be rehabilitated or accepted by their fellow human being? Is anybody beyond salvation?

It’s so easy for us to hear that question and answer that there is. After all, how could there be forgiveness for Hitler, Jimmy Savile, Pol Pot, Myra Hindley or Fred West? Surely they have all committed acts so horrific that there is no way back.

““He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭24:46-47‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

““So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭17:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

““If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”” (‭‭1 John‬ ‭1:8-10‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

These are just a snapshot of the mentions forgiveness gets in the New Testament and, if you look closely, you’ll see that the only condition upon forgiveness is repentance. There’s no mention of being forgiven, unless you have committed certain crimes or sins. It’s simple, repentance and forgiveness, that’s it.

That even applies to what society views as the most awful of acts. John 8 tells the story of a woman who had committed adultery. In Jesus’ time this was almost as bad as it got, and was punishable by stoning. It led to Jesus famous piece of advice, when asked if she should be stoned,

““Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”” ‭‭(John‬ ‭8:7‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

As the mob disappeared, Jesus picked her from the ground, asked her where her accusers had gone and told her that he does not condemn her. Again, his only caveat was his last command,

“Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”” (John‬ ‭8:11‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Repentance. All she needed was repentance, to truly feel sorry for what she’d done and strive to turn from all her wrongdoings.

That is all any of us need. Even Chris Langham, despite his fears, can get forgiveness. Even the vilest of paedophiles, most violent of murderers, most ruthless of dictators, can gain forgiveness for their sins. All of their sins, no matter how bad. Maybe not from everybody, maybe not even from anybody on Earth, but definitely from the one who matters.

The tough thing is, we are called to be like Jesus who, in turn, reflected the nature of God the Father. So we are called, not just to be forgiven, but to forgive as well. It’s not an easy message to hear or carry out as our natural instinct is often for revenge and outrage. However, if we surrender ourselves to God’s will, let Him shape us, then we can forgive. We can bring hope to the hopeless and true beauty out of the ugliest of situations.

Sounds like something worth doing, to me.

Lent Day 19: Mark 15-16

Desmond Tutu recently wrote this piece in the Guardian about forgiveness. As a man who grew up witnessing his father abusing his mother, who explains the story of putting his father off of a conversation until the following day only to find that he died overnight, ans who lived through the brutal Apartheid regime in South Africa, he knows a lot about the subject. So when he writes the following, we need to take note,

“Retaliation gives, at best, only momentary respite from our pain. The only way to experience healing and peace is to forgive. Until we can forgive, we remain locked in our pain and locked out of the possibility of experiencing healing and freedom, locked out of the possibility of being at peace.”

Forgiveness is at the heart of emotional healing. It is the key to giving us peace and it is the cornerstone of Jesus’ actions at the cross.

Many of the new atheists see this as a vile thought. Richard Dawkins, speaking on the Premier Christian Radio show ‘Unbelievable?’ said that the idea that God could only forgive our sins by torturing himself was “revolting”. Others state that it’s ridiculous to suggest that God feels the need to do this to save us from himself.

All of this is to miss the point about forgiveness. This is the ultimate act of forgiveness, not only because it allows for everyone to be forgiven everything, but on the many levels that forgiveness happens.

The one thing everyone thinks of is God forgiving us. That is, of course, the main thing. Jesus took the punishment we were all due so that we could come to him and ask for forgiveness. He is our proxy and our way to the father. It is an amazing act of self sacrifice that was  needed because sin had, and has, such a hold in this world that only a massive act would break it’s power. We can all be forgiven, if we ask.

But being forgiven and seeing the power of sin broken don’t just mean that. It also gives us the power to forgive. Jesus is our example in this. He didn’t think about the personal cost, he knew that this forgiveness was God’s will and he obeyed. We now have a new way.

Jesus quotes this passage in Exodus,

“Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (Exodus 21:24-25 NIV)

This is what people of the time will have seen as their moral code; retribution and revenge. Jesus turns it round, though,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:38-39 NIV)

Forgiveness of others is at the heart of his action. Not just forgiveness of the little things, either, but of evil. He knows it’s hard, look at the agony he has gone through to show us, but it is God’s will, so we should follow. If we want forgiveness, we should always be willing to forgive as well.

This isn’t a natural thing for us to do. If it was then we wouldn’t see extremism sprouting up in the face of injustice. If it was then we wouldn’t see baying mobs outside courts where suspected killers or paedophiles were being tried. If it was then we wouldn’t see so much conflict in the world.

On 8 November 1989, during a Remembrance parade in the Northern Ireland town of Enniskillen, an IRA bomb went off and killed 12 people. One of those was a young nurse called Marie Wilson.

Her father, Gordon, was with her, but survived. You would expect and understand if he wants revenge. If he was consumed with hatred and a desire for retribution. I can’t say that I wouldn’t be if I were in his shoes. He said, however,

“I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge.”

He forgave the bombers, prayed fir them, then strove and worked fir peace in Northern Ireland until his death in 1995.

That is forgiveness! That is God’s will and the example of Jesus.

There is still more to it than that, though. Being forgiven by God and by others is amazing. Forgiving others is freeing and healing. But how hard is it for us to forgive ourselves?

Many of us spend our lives tearing ourselves apart over things we have dine in the past. We see ourselves as worthless, weak, evil, dirty. We dwell on those thoughts until they consume us and affect the way we live our lives.

Jesus says stop. He has forgiven us, the father has forgiven us. We are clean. We are right again. We need to see that in ourselves.

Coming to the cross is not a way to ease our conscience, rather it is a way for us to truly change. It allows us to move on from the past, from the person we have been, and to move forward with a clean slate. Our past sins aren’t forgotten, but they are forgiven. They are lessons, to ourselves and others, in what to avoid, how to avoid and how to move on.

If we can’t get past our own failings, how can we expect others to? How can we expect to be able to truly forgive others?

Jesus died so that we are all forgiven. By God, by others and by ourselves.

He died so that we all forgive both others and ourselves.

He died so that we can learn and move on together.

That’s not revolting! It’s the most amazing thing you’ll ever hear.