In his book Embodying Forgiveness author Gregory Jones writes, “forgiveness is a habit that must be practiced over time within the disciplines of Christian community.” He goes on to state, “forgiveness entails unlearning all those things that divide and destroy communion and learning to see and live as forgiven and forgiving people.”* This week, as our congregation explores the theme of “forgiving” in the red letter challenge, I have been drawn back to Jones’ words.
Later in his book, Jones picks up the idea that forgiveness may best be thought of as learning a craft. Think wood working, quilting, knitting, or some other handcraft – all of these are disciplines that require patient endurance and practice. One does not become proficient in a craft overnight. Usually, the best craftsmen and women among us have honed their skill over a lifetime. This is how forgiving works – the more we practice the craft, the better we will become in going there more often and more naturally. In other words, one can grow in their capacity to be forgiving. Practice makes the craft a more permanent part of our lives.
But where do we learn this craft? Is there a master craftsman from whom we can be apprenticed? Turns out there is, and his name is Jesus. As we study the life of Jesus we find him extending forgiveness over and over again. Even as he endures the cross, Jesus’ prayer is “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Forgiveness was a core part of Jesus’ message. Why, then, do you suppose it is so hard for those of us who follow Jesus to sometimes forgive others?
I have watched persons hold onto grudges and slights for lifetimes. The error in this behavior is that we can delude ourselves to think it takes great strength to not forgive. In truth, forgiveness often requires the greater strength. It also releases us to a greater fullness in life. We are not weak when we “forgive those who sin against us,” we are building and forming muscle memory as we give ourselves to the craft of forgiving.
In the story of the woman caught in adultery, and brought before Jesus as judge (John 8:2-11), an unexpected outcome is told. Entrapment is the theme of the story – not only for the woman, who may well have been set up in order to be caught; but for Jesus, to determine how he will answer (stone her, or let her go?).
After his mysterious drawing session in the Temple courtyard dust, Jesus says, “Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s then, one by one, that the woman’s accusers “drop their stones” and leave. Imagine the audio of this moment as one by one stones fall from hands and make a muffled “thud” into the dirt. That’s the sound of forgiveness, offered by one who taught the craft of forgiveness, to one who was fortunate enough to be forgiven.
What rocks do you need to drop in order to be forgiving?
How will you practice the craft of forgiving in response to having been forgiven yourself?
* Jones, Gregory L., Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmanns Publishing Co., 1995).