27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you."
Jesus is speaking these words - the setting or timing of when they were spoken is important to understand. First, he is under attack from those who should be shouting in joy at his works. The Pharisees see him "mixing with" common sinners and criticize him terribly, publicly ridiculing him for the company he keeps. Second, he is criticized for his timing. He heals on the Sabbath - seen as a "work" by those of Rabbinical teaching. Their hearts are so "into" the rule-keeping that they fail to see the needs right before them. Last, but not least, he has just finished the appointment of his twelve disciples - calling them to be his closest companions during the ministry he performed on this earth.
There is one thing I have learned over the years - if we are prepared for the journey, the path is easier to travel. It is when we are unprepared to travel where it is we are called to travel that we struggle with the pathway we are on. At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus deals with one of the most difficult "roads" that any of his disciples must walk - the road to forgiveness. Why does he begin with this teaching? I believe it is because Jesus wanted his disciples to know that they'd find themselves walking it over and over again. He wanted them to be prepared.
Le me just share a few things that I have gathered on my journey in my understanding of forgiveness:
- It is a journey we'd rather not travel alone, but we often find ourselves as the only ones realizing that the journey is necessary. We recognize that there is the need to forgive - bring forgiveness into relationship - but we feel as though we are the only ones traveling the road. Those who may have committed the offense may not even realize that they play a part in the journey. It is important to remember we NEVER walk the path alone - Jesus is alongside each step of the way - even when the ones involved in the offense are unaware the journey has begun.
- It is a road that must be traveled frequently - over and over until the journey is completed. In this chapter, Jesus was asked by one of his disciples just how many times he must forgive. He posed a question and suggested an answer that seemed quite generous - seven times. To that, Jesus answered, "Naw, seventy times seven....", and at that, jaws dropped. Forgiveness is extended over and over - until it is complete.
- It is an uninvited pathway - we don't forgive just because another asks us to travel that path with them - we initiate the journey, often without anyone else realizing the journey has begun. This is quite evident in Jesus' words to his Father on the day of his death, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Those who needed his forgiveness the most did not seek it - in fact, they did not even know they needed it. Our offenders often don't seek forgiveness - ours is the path to them.
- It is an unconditional and costly journey. I have traveled often - usually taking a relaxing cruise to get away. One of the "amenities" that is offered through my travel agent is the opportunity to buy "trip insurance". If the "condition" exists that requires the cancellation of my trip (sickness, natural disaster, etc), I am assured a full refund of my entire "investment" into the trip. Nothing is lost. This is not the case with the road to forgiveness. There is no "trip insurance" with the assurance that your "investment" will be fully enjoyed and participated in by all. There are no "conditions" under which the journey can be "refunded" if the destination is not reached by all involved in the offense. In other words, we pay the price - others enjoy the benefit - often without realizing the price that was paid.
So, although it is a difficult road to travel - it is a necessary one. Jesus began his ministry with his disciples revealing this much needed lesson of life. Forgiveness begins with me taking the first step. Forgiveness is possible only because of the first step taken. Do unto others...we call this the "golden rule" by which we are to relate to one another. Easier said than done. It is a difficult path to walk, but the rewards of the journey are astronomical. There is nothing more binding than bitterness. There is nothing more weighing upon us than a load of unforgiveness. There is nothing more costly to us than forgiveness that is not sought, or is not "deserved".
There is nothing more freeing than unconditional forgiveness - taking the first step. There is nothing more enlightening than seeing the other person through the eyes of Christ. There is nothing more rewarding than the steps toward your offender. A tough journey at that, but a necessary one! Walk on!