“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” — Ephesians 4:25-32
“If one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” — Colossians 3:13
Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, knew the power of forgiveness. Once, a friend brought up a cruel deed someone had done to Clara. Barton claimed she did not remember the deed done. Insistent, her friend exclaimed, “Don’t you remember the wrong that was done to you?” “No,” Barton answered, “I distinctly remember forgetting that.” This is the intent of St. Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians in the quote above. He says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” We cannot hold onto these wrongs. We must “…forgive one another as God in Christ forgave [us].” If He hold onto the wrongs done to us, it doesn’t hurt the other person, it is a burden that we will continue to carry, keeping us separated from the other members of the Body of Christ. The walls we are building for the New Jerusalem are not walls of separation from each other. These walls are built to separate the virtues of Christ from “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander”. Impurities must be kept outside the walls.
Jesus told the crowd gathered for the sermon on the mount, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). We set the example for how God should forgive us! When we hold onto unforgiveness of another, we are keeping that brokenness within ourselves. The sin is not retained by the other, but by us. And that dividing wall of hostility is once again raised, separating the members of the Body one from another.
In the 40+ years that I have been in parish ministry I have often found it helpful to apologize for things that I have never done. It certainly does me no harm to say, “Please forgive me”, when to protest my innocence would only lead to an argument. The goal of forgiveness is not to set the record straight, it is to heal the brokenness of the relationship. The walls of the Temple will not stand if the bricks cannot reside one with the other. It is not enough to say, “I’m sorry” when someone confronts you with a wrong you have done to them. Saying “I’m sorry” maintains your control of the situation. It is far more efficacious to ask for forgiveness. When we say, “Please forgive me” we give to the other the control of the situation. We give them the power to say, “I forgive you”, or to reject your apology. Seldom in my experience do people simply reject out of hand a request for forgiveness. Requesting the grace of forgiveness from the other leads to reconciliation and healing in the relationship.
The challenge was stated by St. Paul in the Colossians passage above: “… as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Jesus was willing to die to forgive us. Can we not die to ourselves and ask for the grace of God to forgive one another for the wrongs done to us?