TO FORGIVE, FORGET, AND LET GO
Acts 9:1-6, Psalm 30, John 21:1-19
April 29, 2001by Tad Mitsui
One day, an elderly Bishop dedicated a new church building. The ceremony began outside of the church. Then, an attractive woman walked by on the periphery of the gathered congregation. The good bishop saw her and stopped reading the prayer book, and followed her with his eyes. A few seconds later, he resumed the ceremony. Some people noticed this, and some people didn”t. But nobody said anything about it. A few days later, two young seminarians came to the bishop”s office. They were angry about the old man”s behaviour at the consecration of the new church. They said that the bishop disgraced the name of the Holy Catholic Church. But the bishop didn”t know what they were talking about. He had forgotten about such small details. Afterwards, someone explained to him why those young men were so upset. Hearing this, the kind bishop felt sorry for the young men for their youthful obsession about the opposite sex. Because their mind was so caught up in sex, they didn”t know how to simply appreciate beauty without feeling guilty. Beauty is God”s creation and is a gift and a blessing. But once you become obsessed and enslaved by it, this blessing becomes a curse. Letting go enables you to accept that blessing.
Forgiveness initiates a process of forgetting, and allows you to let go. Forgiveness makes it possible for your life to go forward by allowing you to let go of the past that holds you back. It frees you. Two episodes in today”s lectionary are the stories of our great spiritual pioneers – the harbingers of Christian faith – Peter and Paul. Today, the Bible points out to us that their ministry began with forgiveness. Without forgiveness, there would not have been Peter nor Paul in the history of the Christian Church.
When the risen Christ met with Peter and other disciples on the shore of Lake Galilee, Jesus acted as though he had completely forgotten what Peter did to him on the night before he was crucified and killed. When Jesus was arrested and taken to the court of the High Priest, Peter followed him and sat beside the fire in the court yard with enemies of Jesus. The other disciples were nowhere to be seen. At least, Peter followed his master into a hostile crowd. But he was nothing like the brave man he had previously declared himself to be. When Jesus predicted his suffering on the cross, Peter promised that he would followed the master anywhere, even to death. When Peter was confronted by a mere slave girl who didn”t pose any threat – and she simply asked him, "Weren”t you the guy with Jesus?" – he vehemently denied even the knowledge of the man he had promised to follow even unto death. Not just once but three times! But now on the shore of Lake Galilee, Jesus acted as though Peter didn”t do anything like that. Forgiveness and the appearance of forgetfulness set Peter free. He feared nothing any longer. He followed Christ”s will even unto his own death on a cross. Thus, he became one of the founders of the Christian Church. The Roman Catholic Church even calls him the "Vicar of Christ."
Paul, on the other hand, started out by being truly anti-Christ. He hated the followers of Christ with vengeance. When angry mob stoned one of the first elders of the church to death, young Paul, who was called Saul then, supervised the execution. Many people saw the way of Jesus Christ as a blasphemy. They were angry to hear the early Christians claiming that Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses, and was indeed the Messiah. Saul obtained an authorization from the Temple to arrest and imprison, and in some cases to kill, the followers of Jesus Christ. Christians everywhere heard about Paul”s reputation. This is why Ananias asked God if he was hearing him right, when he was told to help Saul. Ananaias was told by God to forget about Saul”s part in a murder and persecution of Christians. Of all people, God chose a principal enemy of the faith to be a future leader of the church! What is amazing is that Ananias obeyed God. Without his obedience and the incredible capacity to forgive, the Christian Church would not have been blessed by the teaching of a great apostle who brought Christianity to Europe. Forgiveness is the central manifestation of God”s love, and we believe it to be the enabler of life. Without forgiveness, life is impossible.
But it is not easy to forgive and also to feel forgiven. In the Lord”s Prayer, we pray "Forgive our sin as we forgive those who committed sin against us." We rarely forgive, so we don”t feel we can be forgiven. Because we don”t feel forgiven, we don”t know how to forgive. Thus we are stuck in old animosities and bitter memories. When the Cold War ended, we thought that the world would at last be able to enjoy peace and harmony between nations. On the contrary, people scraped the scabs off old wounds, renewing the memories of old feuds, and serious fighting and killings flared up in many places around the world with renewed vigour – in Ireland, in the Balkans, in the Middle East, and in Africa and Asia. Memories mean unforgiveness. Unforgiveness means death. The same thing happens in our personal lives, too. We suffer because we don”t feel we are completely acceptable. We don”t feel we are OK. Therefore, it is so difficult for us to forgive and forget. But the experience of forgiveness helps us to forgive.
I made mistakes too, more often than I want to remember. But I also was blessed by graceful forgiving people, my parents, some of the superiors in my jobs, and friends. When I was younger and had not made many mistakes, I was self-righteous, unforgiving, and judgemental. But the experiences of gracious people who accepted me despite my mistakes made me a more forgiving person.
There was a woman who claimed to have conversations with Jesus Christ regularly. A man who was feeling heavily burdened by guilt asked her to ask Jesus on his behalf if his sins were forgiven. She came back the next day and said, "Yes, Jesus forgave all your sins." He wanted to be quite sure about this and asked her to ask Jesus to list the sins he was freed from. She came back next day and said, "There was no list. Jesus said he forgot all of your sins." Because she could not recite such a list of sins, the man became sceptical and didn”t quite believe her so-called conversations with Jesus. Pity, because this story makes an important point. Jesus forgives and frees you from the past. Our experience of forgiveness makes us more forgiving. If we all can learn to forgive and forget, our world will be a much better place. We will all be happier persons being forgiving and life affirming persons.