I‘ve always been amazed when I see someone forgive a person for a horrific crime against them, or more amazing, against members of their families.
You might see someone interview them and ask them how they did it. They often answer in a humble way, “I just thought it was the right thing to do.” We hear this and just marvel. We know we just witnessed something divine.
I recently read the story of a woman, an attorney, who forgave the man who killed her sister, her husband and their unborn child. The killer never admitted guilt and showed no remorse.
Wow, I thought, how do you forgive someone who shows no remorse?
The woman who forgave the man said for months after the killing the phrase “You take away the sins of the world,” touched her deeply. In time, she decided she could not punish this person forever by withholding forgiveness. So she forgave the man.
Her forgiving the man who killed her pregnant sister reminded me of what Sister Helen Prejean, the author of Dead Man Walking, often said about inmates on death row: “People are more than the worst thing they’ve ever done in their lives.”
In time, this woman who forgave the man for killing 3 precious members of her family decided to write the man in prison. She told him that she had forgiven him. Amazingly, this man who formerly had shown no remorse, wrote her back a letter of confession and remorse. In part, his letter read, “You’re right, I am guilty of killing your sister and her husband. I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest condolences and apologize to you.”
That forgiveness from the woman somehow freed him to be honest and remorseful.
Other people never forgive people for doing such atrocious acts. I’ve seen TV clips of family members screaming at criminals, “I hope you rot in hell!”
I think it comes down to how do we see people. Jesus always sees people for who they really are. When he meets Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho (and most certainly despised by his fellow Jews), he doesn’t see the most sinful person in the town. No, he has lunch with Zacchaeus and sees a man seeking redemption.
Father James Martin, SJ, in his book Seven Last Words, says this is what Jesus does from the cross. He doesn’t just see his executioners making a horrible decision, or being forced to make such a decision. Jesus sees a person who was once some momma’s little baby. Jesus sees them. He loves them, and so he can forgive them, and us.
Forgiveness is a gift to both you and to the other person. Jesus tells us this throughout the gospels, but he also teaches this on the cross when he says, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Can we let Jesus be our teacher from up on the cross and then somehow apply this verse to our own life? It’s hard. Really hard. I have often spoken with others who have told me they are completely incapable of forgiving others. They have no desire to offer forgiveness. None.
“How can I forgive?” one person asked me. “After what that man did to me?”
That’s a great question. The only thing I believe we can do is to start by asking God for the desire for the desire to forgive.
And that’s surely enough. Because forgiveness is a gift of God. It’s a truly supernatural gift from God.
I can only pray that forgiveness will come to all of us as we ask God for the desire to forgive those who have hurt us.
“God, give us that desire … .”