So as I was preparing for worship this morning (that is, turning on my computer and opening my web browser and navigating to the YouTube page), a video on YouTube’s “suggested” list caught my eye. I forget the exact title, but it was something along the lines of “Preacher on Commercial and Broadway” or something. I thought that was interesting because I know that area well, and I don’t often see videos that are filmed locally like that.
My curiosity got the best of me and I opened the video. It wasn’t what I thought. Basically it was a street preacher (which is exactly as it sounds) on a metaphorical soap box preaching into a mic, and people who didn’t appreciate the message started shouting and disrupting the whole thing. While it didn’t get violent, it sure seemed like those against this man wanted it to be.
But instead of just walking away, he continued to walk around the group protected by his people. He kept shouting at those opposing him, saying that they are bullying him and assaulting him. Although he asked them questions as to why they didn’t like his message, he didn’t seem interested in any kind of dialogue as he didn’t let them answer. Although he said that he didn’t want any trouble, he wouldn’t step away from the situation but continued to rouse up an obviously unreceptive crowd. Although he claimed to love them, he effectively squashed their voice and dehumanized them through his actions.
What a predicament.
On the one hand, I understand the burning desire to say things, to proclaim what is deemed “good news”, to tell everyone about the joy you have inside. But on the other hand, the point of saying these things is to share that joy and if people just don’t want it, I can’t see forcing it on them being the right way of getting around that.
I don’t know, I guess I’m just wondering why we all can’t get along.
We hear a lot about forgiveness through these texts. And that isn’t a bad thing, forgiveness is important. But what gets me about these readings is that parable that Jesus gives. It makes me feel that we need to forgive… or else.
If you know me at all, you’d know that I’m not about that “scared straight” tactic. I don’t think it is good news to be told what we must do to avoid active punishment. It isn’t helpful to give ultimatums and throw guilt and shame on those who just don’t agree with you.
But what is Jesus saying here about forgiveness? I think the answer is in the first reading. If you keep up with the Semicon Vids, you’ll be familiar with this story of Joseph in Egypt, and his brothers who have wronged him. Joseph had the power –and dare I say the right– to punish his brothers for what they have done to him by wanting to kill him but ultimately selling him off to slavery when he was just a child. His brothers knew this too, so they plotted (again) a way to gain Joseph’s favour.
But it wasn’t needed. Not by a long shot. Rather, Joseph insightfully saw the good in their evil intentions and was ready to forgive them. Joseph saw that grace that was bestowed onto him and he was able to reflect that on others. Joseph knew about redemption as he was able to make his way from slave to Pharaoh’s side. Joseph understood forgiveness, that when life throws us lemons, we are still loved by God.
And I believe that is what Jesus’ parable is all about. He isn’t saying that we need to “forgive or else” as a threat, but he is saying that to warn us that our inability to forgive is actually a reflection on us, not them. When we cannot forgive, that could mean that we don’t know forgiveness, we don’t understand grace, and we don’t feel the redemption that God has given us all through love and compassion.
So instead of forcing us to be forgiving, we are invited to look for and recognise the ways in which we have been forgiven. We are invited to see how we have been blessed in our lives. We are invited to see just how much we are loved in spite of our shortcomings, then maybe we could in turn reflect that love onto others.
Again, this isn’t a threat to learn how to forgive or suffer the consequences, it is a promise that we have been forgiven. It isn’t an ultimatum to forgive or die, it is an invitation to be better by recognising how we have been blessed. It isn’t a condemnation that we are horrible people, but it is an exhortation encouraging us to be all that God has intended us to be.
And that is a beloved child of God.
Have a great week, everyone!