Over and over and over I hear stories of pain inflicted by well meaning or too often not well meaning churchgoers. And I get really angry. REALLY ANGRY. All caps angry is rare for me. My first response is usually sinful. But I am not unique. A couple of guys who were really close to Jesus had the same sinful response to bad behavior.
He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival. But the people of the village did not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to Jerusalem. When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” (Luke 9, NLT)
My response? You betcha! The response of Jesus?
But Jesus turned and rebuked them. So they went on to another village.
As much as my heart cries out for vindication and revenge Jesus says no. You go on to the next village. You trust God. You forgive. This journey is hard because my sense of justice says that they deserve fire from heaven. But it gets even tougher. Jesus says to forgive my enemies. Even those dressed as sheep while acting like wolves.
The iPod shuffle landed on a song by Melissa Greene today and the lyrics reminded me of how tough this forgiveness clause in our Christian contract can be to execute.
The song is "The Long Road to Forgiveness". The lyrics are written from a woman's point of view but the pronoun is irrelevant. This is a gender neutral issue.
She's pointed fingers and stood her ground and built a wall around her heart
She didn't want to lose a battle in a war she not start
She carried grudges long enough but they've only weighed her down
but the bridges burned are just lessons learned that she carries with her now
That little lyric bridge pretty much outlines every reaction of our flesh to being hurt. Step one is to blame someone else. Step two is to vow not to back down and give in because, after all, you were wronged. Step three is going into hiddenness and despair. Step four is being too proud to lose the battle. Step five is hanging onto the grudge even as the weight of that grudge crushes your spirit.
That is an ugly little sequence but it is a pattern I have repeated far too many times in my journey. I have heard it said that bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. I imagine the heart of Jesus being broken by our stubborn refusal to consider His forgiveness extended to us and consequently refusing to lean on His power to help us forgive. This passage in Paul's letter to the Church at Colossae powerfully makes the point.
Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. (Colossian 3, NLT)
I don't see a lot of wiggle room in that text. If I claim that Christ is all that matters and that He lives in me then I must forgive those who offend me. Can someone find a loophole here? Please?
The chorus of Melissa Greene's song reminds me how hard this road can be.
Down the long road to forgiveness there is fear at every turn
And she knows she needs to go the distance
Where her heart can finally rest, break these chains of bitterness
God will heal her brokenness
Down the long road to forgiveness
There is fear on that road if you take your eyes off of Christ. Your heart cries out in protest. What if they reject, scoff or take advantage of my forgiveness? Jesus reminds us gently that He understands.
When you break those chains and allow God to heal your heart the weight of the world will lift off of your soul. It is a long road to forgiveness. Sadly it is too often the road less taken. But it is the road that will make a difference in your journey with Jesus. I pray you will have the courage to start down that road today. I am praying this prayer as I feel the pain of another brother and sister wounded by others. Jesus will meet me (and them) there.