Seven Last Words
“Forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.”
Forgiveness, what is it? All relationships involve the need for acceptance of another, acceptance of hurt, and acceptance of reconciliation. All healthy relationships require that I let you into my life as an imperfect person, willing to experience your failings even toward me.
We often see parents urge their children to say “I’m sorry” for relatively minor infractions, with the expectation that the person they have affronted would say something like, “It’s OK, I forgive you.” This is a great practice because it teaches kids that other people, their stuff, and their feelings are important and aren’t to be taken for granted. If all works well, the kids also get to see humility and forgiveness modeled for them.
Forgiveness though brings with it the idea of releasing a debt; of letting go of hurt; of blame. It includes a realization that we are all fallen creatures and perhaps even accepting that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”
Mature forgiveness must be freely given and have as its direction the reconciliation of a relationship in some form. It isn’t simply to ignore a hurt for the moment and continue to carry the affront quietly. It is rather, in its fullest form, to accept the hurt into our lives and yet to want and to do the best for those who hurt us.
Forgiveness arises from a deep caring for people because they are people. Willingness to forgive is a Christian virtue, one that arises from who we are and is extended without payment.
The following prayer was found in Ravensbruck concentration camp after its liberation. Read it through slowly.
“Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us. Remember the fruits we have brought, thanks to this suffering--our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen.”
What is your initial reaction to this prayer?
What qualities of forgiveness did you notice in this prayer?
How do you imagine one of the Nazi camp staff would have reacted following the war, if they had heard this prayer uttered for them?
Are there any parallels between this prayer and Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness from the cross?
Have you been severely hurt by someone? How hard might it be for you to say a prayer like this for them? If it would be difficult, what would have to change in you to make it possible?
Have you severely hurt someone? What might be your reaction to know that they had said a prayer like this for you?
What do you need to do?