PostScript: Counting pompous circumstances
Jesus implies we should not arrogantly keep score of wrongs against us (Matthew 18.21-35).
Leo McKinstry’s comment in the Daily Express that Britain is ‘descending into a cultural war zone’, might equally be levelled at Peter’s question about how many times we should forgive others in the ‘church’ (see Matthew 18.15-22). Yet McKinstry was writing about the arguments surrounding the Last Night of the Proms 2020, not an emerging religion two thousand years earlier. ‘Promgate’ began when the BBC decreed that ‘Rule Britannia!’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ would be played but not sung. After it was reported that this was allegedly a substantial nod to the Black Lives Matter campaigns, the U-turns began in earnest. And who knows which way we’ll be facing by the time we get to the Albert Hall of Saturday 12th September?
However, Jesus and the disciples are about as likely to be present at the BBC Proms on Saturday as any other audience member who had not been allowed to purchase a ticket! In terms of an audience there won’t even be two or three gathered (Matthew 18.20)! We can’t help but wonder what Jesus would teach his disciples about the understanding and implication of meanings of the lyrics of such songs.
Djokovic’s apology – which seemed to be a genuine one, albeit via Instagram, to the line judge accidentally hit in the throat with a tennis ball he let fly in anger – would probably have struck (no pun intended) everyone as more genuine and been far more effectual if delivered in person. Leaving the tournament and flying out of New York, before initiating his appeal for forgiveness didn’t look so good. He later said he was ‘extremely sorry’ and feels ‘sad and empty’. Djokovic went on to say that he needs to ‘turn this all into a lesson for my growth and evolution as a player and human being’.
Would it be true to say that forgiveness means very little if it does not result in some sort of change in the one seeking or needing forgiveness?
Forgiveness, as Jesus and Peter are talking about in Matthew 18.21-22, is spoken of in relating to the one who is offering forgiveness. The very act of offering forgiveness can make a huge difference to the victim of any offence, in terms of helping them to move on from their hurt and pain. Even as Djokovic says of himself, such experiences can be a lesson for growth as a human being. But such forgiveness is not offered conditionally. It can be offered in the hope that it will bring about change or redemption, but this can never be an assumption.
When we are asked to forgive others who have done wrong – no matter how many times we might need to forgive them (although let’s be honest, that is going to get harder the higher the number climbs towards seventy-seven!) – do we try to understand why someone did that wrong? Do we try to understand the story of the individual behind the crime? If we blindly forgive others, without seeking understanding, are we not guilty of the likelihood of perpetuating the crime, while failing to aid change and healing? Is a culture of ‘forgive-and-forget’ irresponsible? Whether it be the removal of Sir Hans Sloane statue from the British Museum or to cease singing ancient nationalistic glory songs of an empire based on oppression (surely the very nature of empire, by definition?), does simply wiping an offensive past from the history books aid human growth? If we forget things which we now judge as crimes of the past – whether it be a tennis ball slammed in anger, the forceful taking and occupying of land from others in the name of empire, or a slave owned in the name of business for profit – if we erase history, how do we learn from the past? The danger comes when we ignore or glorify past wrongs.
The bottom line is this: Jesus did not say ‘Don’t worry about it.’ What he did say and imply was that we should carry on forgiving as many times as is necessary. And, by implication, we should try to understand the reasons behind people’s actions in the past, however abhorrent they may be to us now, so that we might learn from them and not make the same mistakes again.
Like his heavenly Father, Jesus encourages us to forgive perpetually, but if that forgiveness is genuinely from our hearts then we will have learnt something in the process.
Reflect on the concept of ‘forgiveness’, before praying the prayer below:
- Who do you/we need to forgive?
- Who do you/we need to ask forgiveness from?
- Now revisit the first question again and consider who else you/we need to forgive.
teach us to forgive without pompously keeping score;
without counting continually.
Teach us to forgive as we live –
day by day;
We each have our own ongoing story;
help us to listen to the circumstances of others,
as we hope others will listen to us.
Teach us to take our historical rights and wrongs;
to transform them in this present moment,
into growth for the future.
Teach us to forgive as you forgive;
to forgive our brothers and sisters
from our hearts.
Explore the lyrics of ‘Rule Britannia!’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.
- What do you feel these songs say of about the United Kingdom of 2020 – an allegedly multicultural and multi-faith nation?
- Where does Jesus culture of perpetual forgiveness fit in to the mentality of these songs of ‘empire’.
Invite people to design a protective face mask which makes a statement about Jesus instructions on forgiveness in Matthew 18.21-22. What images or illustrations might the parable which follows inspire you to create? You could have a supply of eco-friendly masks for people to write or draw their design on. It might be helpful to remind people how damaging or hurtful the words which come out of our (even, masked) mouths can be. This, of course, is ironic in the face of the songs we are cannot sing in churches or elsewhere!
Take a look at stories in the news (online) this week where people might have been more forthcoming in asking for forgiveness, such as Novak Djokovic at US Tennis Open championships. Talk about times when you have been really angry and found it hard to apologise for something you possibly shouldn’t have done. Talk about times when you could have been more forgiving of someone else’s behaviour, if you’d taken time to understood what drove them to behave in such a way.
Tim Lowe is a minister of the United Reformed Church, serving with St Andrew’s Roundhay, in Leeds. Tim is interested in all forms of visual media as expressions of exploring faith, but admits struggling to make technology not break. His preferred approach might well be ‘Lowe-tech’.
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