Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34)
If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you yours. (Matthew 6:14)
Jesus had a few favorite topics he talked about all the time. The defenseless. Welcoming strangers.
He didn’t talk much about politics. He was more interested in relationships. He talked a lot about relationships between Creator and created; neighbors and enemies; leaders and the led; the wealthy and the poor, and family members.
Relationships in this country are tense right now. Election results have divided households and challenged friendships. It would have been the same if the outcome had gone the other way. People elected to serve are more focused on fighting that governing. Angry people are attacking people they don’t even know because they perceive them to be a threat. Or maybe just because now they think they can and get away with it. Often they do.
The media is drawn to such stories like bees to nectar. Our constant focus on protests, rancor, and inappropriate behavior keeps the fear factor high and makes us increasingly suspicious and fearful of one another. As fear increases trust decreases. Healthy relationships are dependent on mutual trust and respect. We don’t let down our guard around people we do not trust.
Relationships in the time of Jesus were tense. A foreign government occupied the area of the world where Jesus did his ministry. People were afraid. If they said or did the wrong thing they might find themselves on one of the hundreds of crosses seen everywhere. The crucified were left on them to die, sending a gruesome message: “Don’t mess with Rome.”
Relationships were tense in Europe in the last century. People were afraid. Neighbors were encouraged to spy on neighbors and report anyone who seemed suspicious. It didn’t take much to earn that reputation. Places of worship were burned. Books were banned and burned. Things were tense.
It was a tense time in this country in the early 1900’s when women left their kitchens to march for the right to vote. That right was won with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. It took 144 years from the founding of the country to grant full participation in it to all adults. The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, nearly a hundred years after the country was founded, granted all men, but only men, the right to vote. It took the 24th Amendment to protect the rights of all eligible Americans to vote. That wasn’t passed until 1965. The Native Americans who were here first are still fighting for their rights as a sovereign people.
Left to our own devices we resist change and revert to violence. We viciously oppose what threatens our preferred way of life. We’re witnessing this again, now, here. Some think the outcome of the 2016 election is going to resolve the gridlock that has become our government. Others are equally convinced this is the beginning of the end of this great experiment in democracy. Both sides are fueled by large quantities of fear.
Time will tell whose theory is right. Meanwhile, the outcome has less to do with what goes on in Washington and more to do with what goes on in our everyday interactions with each other. Will we choose to smile or snarl at people we don’t like very much right now? Will we stand by as people are attacked and insulted or will we come to their aid?
Can we pray, “Father, forgive them (and us) for they (we) know not what they (we) do?” Can we pray for our enemies? Can we forgive those who are hurting us and those we care about?
Forgiving doesn’t mean ignoring behavior. It does mean not returning evil for evil. Forgiving means speaking up in the face of injustice and then forgiving those who cause the injustice. This is what mature faith calls us to do. It is not easy. It is not fun. It requires hard work. It involves hard conversations and dealing with even harder feelings. It requires withdrawing to a quiet place to pray and reconsider. It calls us to go places that make us uncomfortable. It requires us to get over our fear and phobias and reach out to people who scare us and people who need us.
These are tense times. But they aren’t the first ones. And they aren’t likely going to be the last ones. We have choices to make. We can be part of the effort to reduce the tensions. Or we can choose to be silent as others ramp up the tensions. We can try to understand the other’s point of view even as we vehemently disagree with it. Or we can return insult for insult and accusation for accusation, staying stuck in gridlock.
In the end, God wins. Let us pray to know how to be part of making that happen rather than contributing to the gridlock postponing it.