“…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. “ Ephesians 4:32
There is nothing easier to stir up than resentment. Life, after all, is not equitable nor will it ever be this side of the new creation. The world does not accept this, of course, since for them this world is all there is. As a result atonement for the inequities of the world are not laid on the Son of God in mercy and love, but on the neighbor. Someone must be responsible for the injustices and inequities of life – someone else.
Western societies are the product of the classical world but most importantly, of Christianity. Since the Enlightenment, however, western intelligentsia have made a cottage industry of pouring scorn on the Christian faith. At best, they have opined, religion is nothing more than a coping apparatus for the adolescent phase of life. Mature people discard faith for reason. Many have adopted this cynical, arrogant perspective and the western world looks like it.
For centuries, people gathered in homes and churches in towns, villages, hamlets, palaces and castles for the various expressions of Christian worship. And central to virtually every gathering was this petition, offered in the Lord’s Prayer; “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Today, millions of people live their lives with no reference to God or an atoning, forgiving Savior, let alone the regular prayer that forgiveness be central to their way of living. Instead, we have now raised several generations of young people for whom an ill-defined Utopian future and the harsh demands of equity and justice define their relations with others. The horizon of heaven has been shattered and they are little gods and a law unto themselves. Thus, the rise of prickly, political correctness where the worst construction is placed on my neighbors words and actions. After all, the world looks perfectly just from where I am standing. You are the one that needs to get in line.
In writing to the Ephesians, St. Paul is aware that this little Christian community is living in a pagan culture dominated by the ruthlessly powerful. Justice was swift and brutal. And this harsh reality was not limited to the aristocracy. The mindset of retribution was active in all levels of society. Forgiveness was not a high value in paganism. Paul saw this in the culture of pagan Ephesus when he wrote,
“Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart;…” Ephesians 4:17.
In contrast, St. Paul underscores the character of Christian relations in the light of the Cross;
“…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. “
The impulse for reconciliation replaces the urge for resentment. The demand for payment is tempered with the word of God’s promise that the selfish, willful theft of my existence and my mishandling of the gift of life has been answered by God’s mercy and forgiveness. That promise radically reorients me in the world. Now, I see my neighbor not through the harsh demands of accusatory justice but finally as a person for who the forgiveness of God was poured out in love.
The law has its place in ordering what is, finally, a disordered world. The Christian, as a citizen under the law, is called to uphold that order for the sake of the neighbor’s welfare. But in our fundamental relations with one another – family, friends, business associates and neighbors, the tide that flows through the Christian life is that of forgiveness – the God-given key that opens a living faith, real freedom and an authentic future in Jesus Christ.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in
Christ Jesus our Lord.”