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The Jesus Posture is the Way of Forgiveness

The Jesus Posture is the Way of Forgiveness August 5, 2014

Yesterday Jon Merritt called his readers, now that Mark Driscoll has confessed and apologized for his sins, to forgive. I was saddened by the vitriol spilled out against Merritt and Driscoll in the process. In fact, yesterday I posted about scapegoating and mob/crowd anger against someone, and it was not absent in some of the vitriol. I was saddened because I thought so many were Othering Driscoll, and Merritt at times, when they should have been taking the posture of Jesus — who forgave his enemies, killers and those who brutally and viciously attacked him with violence. I was saddened because I know some of these same people are more than willing to join in the song of grace that Brennan Manning sings — over and over — but for Driscoll they saw no need to forgive. Perhaps they are convinced that his motives are impure, which they might be but do we really know this? Perhaps they are convinced he deserves more denunciation. In my view so many have named their victimization well, they have named his sins publicly, they have named what he has done and have had their say.

What is next? Is it to grind away? Is it to turn our anger into the mob action that results in scapegoating? What is next?

What I know is Jesus struck a path that was marked by an aggressive, offensive act of forgiveness toward his enemies, knowing that love and grace melt more hard hearts than the mob-like scapegoating acts to which we are all tempted.

I have taken here from my little book, 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed, a chp on enemy love. Jesus calls you and me to make our enemies our neighbors, and in making them neighbors they cease being enemies.

Lest I be mistaken: the acts of Driscoll, which I consider to be substantial, may not lead to reconciliation without some very, very hard work on his part and the part of others; they may not permit him to function as he has as a pastor.

But the Jesus posture toward all is the way of forgiveness.

Loving Wrongdoers: “But love your enemies” (Luke 6:35).

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus urges his followers to love their enemies but enemy-love is a wondrous principle to pronounce but a demanding love to live. Still, for Jesus enemy love is not a romantic ideal but the rugged reality of the Jesus Creed. First, we’ve got to have enemies in order to have enemy love, and to have enemies we need the memory of having been wronged by someone. Only because of wounds and memory does the enemy love of the Jesus Creed get summoned into action.

Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, a Yugoslavian Christian, endured compulsory military service. He was tested and persecuted and mentally tortured because of his faith. He recounts his excruciating experience in his book The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World.  The maturing question he has had to live with is a question many of us also need to ask: “How should the one who loves,” who lives by the Jesus Creed, “remember the wrongdoer and the wrongdoing?” (9). Loving the enemy often begins in the mind and in our memory.

Perhaps it is far too easy for us to assign enemy-status only to those at unreachable distances and whose enemy status reaches enormity – Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. It is far too easy to cough up the thoroughly romantic claim that we should love them. In Jesus’ world such an enemy status was assigned to Rome, but the enemy Jesus has in mind is much closer to home than unreachable tyrants like Tiberius sitting in far-off countries on thrones of iron. The enemy, our enemy, is the one who has wounded us and enemy-love seeks to heal those wounds.

Loving the enemy is the only way to stop the cycle of violence, the only way to accomplish justice and then to move beyond it. The Jesus Creed love of enemy-love is the only way to create a kingdom reality on earth.

Enemy-love begins in our memory

Loving our enemy begins in the mind with our memory, and it is a hard memory to travel. Remembering that we have been wronged leads us to two options. We can choose to stew in our memories of the wrong and enjoy a feast of condemnation, the feast that never satisfies, and we can choose to dwell in this stew of condemnation. If we do, we sadly let the wrongdoer define us.

Or, in the grace of God, we can let the cross of Jesus Christ – where the Innocent One was mortally wounded but who nonetheless offered grace through that moral wound – define us and our relationship with those who have wounded us. First, we offer the wounds and the one who wounded us to the cross by condemning the wrongdoing. Enemy-love doesn’t casually dismiss the wrongdoer or the wrongdoing; it condemns the wrong.

In God’s grace, enemy-love then remembers not only the wrong and the wound but that God has absorbed all wounds in order to turn them around into grace. Once we face God’s gracious reversal of wounds, we seek the grace of reconciliation by remembering that, in spite of our own wrongdoing, God loved and forgave us. In that work of God, we turn our memory of wounds into the hope of grace and offer that grace to those who have wounded us. In offering the grace that genuinely acknowledges wrongdoing, we unleash God’s cycle of grace by living out the cross of Jesus Christ.

We need a cross-shaped memory to practice the enemy-love of the Jesus Creed. At the cross not only did God forgive us but he established the cycle of enemy-love. Jesus said “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). As Volf expresses his own experience, “The memory of the Passion urges … me to place the memory of suffered wrong in the service of reconciliation” (125).

Enemy-love welcomes the humanity of the enemy

What is hard for us to admit about the enemy is that in the face of the enemy we see an eikon of God, someone made in God’s image, and therefore we see the face of Christ – who is the perfect eikon of God. Instead of shrinking the other person to the size of our personal villain, we need the eyes of Christ to see in the other person, in spite of the wrongs they have done, someone whom God loves, someone for whom Christ has died, and someone with whom we journey in this life. It is hard to see an abuser or an oppressor or a criminal as an eikon of God, but that is how the Jesus Creed fleshes itself out in calling us to enemy-love.

Enemy love somehow finds a way both to admit that the offender is an eikon of God – a cracked one to be sure – and someone we are to welcome to the table of eikons because God made that eikon. This does not mean we wipe away the wrongs or dismiss the deeds until they have been seen for what they are. But it does mean that we are called as practitioners of the Jesus Creed to welcome the humanity of the enemy.

“This fellow,” the experts said of Jesus, “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). Will we join Jesus at the table?

Enemy-love becomes prayer and blessing for our enemy

As Jesus says in his great Sermon, “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28). If our memories need to become cross-shaped, so also do our blessings and prayers. It takes the courage of faith, faith in the kind of God who forgives at the cross, to lift in prayer those who have wounded us. It takes faith to extend God’s blessing to them. Perhaps the greatest prayer we can pray for those who have wounded us is the simple one: “Lord, work in this person to become the person You want them to be.” Maybe we can go no farther. That far we can go.

Pope John Paul II extended forgiveness to the man who shot him, Mehmet Ali Agca, and Miroslav Volf has mentally forgiven the captain who tortured him. They have done this by remembering the cross, welcoming the humanity of the offender, and extending grace through prayer and blessing to the other.

Facing this day:  The Jesus Creed summons us to love even our enemy.

Scriptural focus: May we pray with Jesus, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34).


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