Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Victory of Forgiveness

Yesterday, Anselm gave us a moving example of praying for and forgiving your enemies. Essentially he asks God to "destroy" his enemies in the same way Abraham Lincoln described: "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"

Jesus of Nazareth of course called on his followers to live in just this way:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies. Pray for those who treat you badly. If you do this, you will be children who are truly like your Father in heaven. He lets the sun rise for all people, whether they are good or bad. He sends rain to those who do right and to those who do wrong. If you love only those who love you, why should you get a reward for that? Even the tax collectors do that. And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than anyone else. Even the people who don’t know God are nice to their friends.
What I am saying is that you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
(Gospel of Matthew 5.43 - 48, ERV)

Jesus himself lived this out all the way the end. Hanging from nails that had just been hammered through his hands and feet by Roman soldiers, he famously prayed, "Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing," (Gospel of Luke 23.34, ERV).

At this far a remove from the events of Jesus' execution we 21st century people tend to think of forgiveness in rather abstract terms, as an admirable ethical principal that we ought to apply in our lives. And it is that. But for Jesus on his cross that day it was also something else.

Love, praying for his enemies, and forgiving them were weapons.

Forgiveness as a Weapon

Jesus was not a philosopher, social gadfly, violent revolutionary or most of the other interesting but historically groundless things he has been described as. As his student Simon Peter recognized, he was the Messiah and he fulfilled the role of the Messiah (read a little more about that here and here). When he crisscrossed Galilee and Judah inviting everyone into the Kingdom of God,  rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, and cleansed the Temple, he was doing what most Jewish people expected the Messiah to do. And they knew that the next step would be destroying the enemies of Israel -- the Romans, of course. Who else could it be but the Romans?

But that's where the paths diverged. All the other "Messiahs" battled Rome (or before that the Seleucid
Triumphant Christ by Melozzo da Forli (1483)
), the "obvious" enemy of Israel. Jesus saw a greater enemy though. Yes, we must face facts: Jesus was a firm believer in "he who must not be named" (because it's so unenlightened, you know), Satan the devil. As the focus of evil in the world Satan was the power behind the throne of Rome and the other nations. He was the true enemy of Israel and the Messiah was duty bound to attack and tear down his kingdom. "The Son of God came for this: to destroy the devil’s work," (1st Letter of John 3.8, ERV)

This battle took place not on the Plains of Esdraelon or the Kidron Valley but on Jesus' cross and his weapons were self-sacrificial love, trust in God's justice, the words of Scripture, prayer, and forgiveness.  Forgiveness even for a man who maybe a few days ago had been living as a criminal (Gospel of Luke 23.29-43). The triumph of love over the worst possible hatred, the nullification of the horrific disease of sin, and the forgiveness of all people conquered the devil and smashed to shivers his kingdom in the deep mystery of God's atonement for his children.

It's the same for us today. We in the Christian Movement fight the same battle against evil and to extend God's reign. Praying for your enemies, living out God's love in realtime, and making the Great Announcement of forgiveness to people still has the power to destroy the devil's work.

"I will let everyone who wins the victory sit with me on my throne. It was the same with me. I won the victory and sat down with my Father on his throne," (Book of Revelation 3.21, ERV).

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