Miranda and I tag-teamed on Sunday and shared some stories/reflections on the forgiveness part of the Lords Prayer – both asking for/receiving forgiveness, and offering it to others. Asking for forgiveness – before God and before other people – is an extremely difficult thing to do. It’s recognizing that we need to receive that forgiveness for healing and wholeness, for our lives to be transformed and for us to be in right relationship with God, ourselves, with others and the world.
So what is “sin”? What is this thing we need to recognize in ourselves and ask for freedom from, through the beautiful and impossible gift of forgiveness? Ivan Illich (in The rivers north of the future: the testament of Ivan Illich) provides an interesting definition of sin which I’d like to share, and which I think breaks down some of the ways that the world often sees sin, as criminal or unlawful acts that lead to fear and isolation. Rather,
“Sin is refusing to honour that relationship which came into existence between the Samaritan and the Jew, which comes into existence through the exercise of freedom, and which constitutes an “ought”, because I feel called by you, called to you, called to this tie between human beings, or between beings and God… It is always an offence against a person. It’s an infidelity.”
A betrayal of love, perhaps?
By recognizing this capacity to reject others, to fail to see Jesus in those we encounter and to fail to respond accordingly, we recognize the need to ask for and accept the forgiveness that is offered to us. We are already forgiven! The transformation in our lives and relationships comes when we then recognize our need for forgiveness, and when we accept the forgiveness that has been given. And so we live with, eloquently described by Illich,
“a deep sorrow about my capacity to betray the relationships which I, as a Samaritan have established, and, at the same time, a deep confidence in the forgiveness and mercy of the other.”
Jesus did not just forgive those who repented, who apologized for acts of betrayal and then changed their ways. He forgave everyone, and had compassion on everyone, even when they did not change. Even those who hurt and hated him and felt no remorse. We are forgiven before we have said sorry or transformed our lives… but it is in accepting that forgiveness, and understanding our capacity to sin and betray the Love of God, that our selves, our relationships, and communities are transformed.
I will end with an excerpt from Peter Rollins’ blog:
What if Jesus taught an impossible forgiveness, a forgiveness without conditions, a forgiveness that would give before (some condition was met)? Now that kind of craziness would have annoyed a lot of people. “No, you don’t need to change at all, I accept you and welcome you just the way you are.” This would be the heretical image of a Jesus who hung out with drunkards and prostitutes (not ex-drunkards and ex-prostitutes and not as a strategy to make them ex-drunkards and ex-prostitutes.
Yet is it not the case that it is precisely this unconditional gift of forgiveness without need of repentance/change that has the power to evoke repentance/change. As most of us know it is often impossible to change until we meet someone who says to us, “you don’t have to change, I love you just the way you are.” It is only then that the change can even begin to take place.
And so, we are called to receive this forgiveness and in turn to see others with God’s eyes and to forgive them, unconditionally. And while this can seem impossible, we must remember that the impossible has already been accomplished… And unconditional Love (and thus forgiveness) is the way to the Kingdom (here on earth), and we are not going through this journey alone.