Certainly, forgiving is not the first thing that comes to mind when someone has done something bad to you. In fact, the other day I read something the well-known Christian speaker and writer Max Lucado said about this subject. The question he asked was, “How do we deal with the people we are ‘stuck with’?” These are people who get on our nerves, who irritate us, or otherwise are a “pain in the neck.”
He was thinking, I believe, of the people who we live with — spouses, children, family, work associates and bosses, neighbors. These are people we see every day who we have to put up with — and who, from time to time, make us mad.
Lucado suggests that there are three responses. We can “flee,” “fight” or “forgive.” The first two responses are more or less our natural impulses.
It’s so easy to flee from the problem. If someone gets on our nerves too much and aggravates us with hurtful words or deeds, we can leave — get away from such a person. Often people do that. They run away from a problem they are having with another person. They opt out of the relationship. People quit their job or they quit their marriage. And, in my religious world, unfortunately, I have seen people quit their church or their pastor. Fleeing is a common response, but sadly, the same problem often crops up again in the new place.
The other common response is “fight.” When someone hurts you, you fight back. You defend yourself. Homes can become combat zones and offices can turn into boxing rings. Tensions mount, tempers flare, words fly and sometimes so do fists. Not a pretty sight. And not a good solution!
No, the best way is forgiveness. But it’s so hard to do. Certainly, it is what Jesus taught and lived.
I was struck recently by the incident in John 13, where Jesus and the disciples are gathered in the upper room. They are ready to celebrate the Passover feast together, but no one has provided the common hospitality of washing their feet. So, Jesus does it. He pours water into the basin by the door and takes up the towel to wash all of their feet — an amazing feat (not a pun) for one who is their Lord and Teacher.
What is really striking is that Jesus does this knowing where these feet are headed. And it is not to follow him! One betrays him, one denies him and they all run away from him fearful that they, too, will be arrested. It’s almost as if Jesus forgives the disciples before they leave him. This is how much he loved them, or as the Gospel writer says, this is how Jesus shows them “the full extent of his love.” (John 13:1)
If there is one thing that is at the center of the Christian message, it is just that — forgiveness. God forgives us. He certainly doesn’t have to. But, as the psalm writer says, God “does not treat us as our sins deserve.” (Psalm 103:10) Instead, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)
When I look at our world and the ways people treat each other, I see a lot of brokenness. Friendships, marriages, families, nations, races are all broken so often and in so many ways. Forgiveness is what we need.
When Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, he does so for two reasons: The first is to give us mercy, and the second is to give us a message. And that message is that we are to offer forgiveness to others. Just as Jesus extends grace and forgiveness to us, we are to extend grace and forgiveness to others.
One of the first Bible verses I learned way back in Sunday school was Ephesians 4:32. It says, “Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other, just as God in Christ forgave you.”
Actually, I believe that there are many people who are looking for acceptance and love and forgiveness. More than you might imagine! A story I once heard proves that.
A Spanish father and son had become estranged. The son had run away and the father set out to find him. The father searched for months and months to no avail. Finally, in a last-ditch effort to find his son, the father put an ad in the Madrid newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you! Signed, your father.”
On Saturday, 800 Pacos showed up looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.
Flee, fight or forgive? What will you choose? It’s obvious which is the best choice.
About the writer: The Rev. John Koedyker is pastor of congregational care at First Reformed Church of Grand Haven.