Sunday, June 12, 2016

Forgiveness and Resurrection

"God Saved my Life."
In 1972, an iconic photo depicted children in Vietnam running, a girl with her arms outstretched, clothes burnt off, skin blackened by a napalm bomb, screaming in pain.

After 14 months in the hospital and 17 operations, the girl, named Kim, returned home.  Some years later, she read the New Testament for the first time and became a Christian.  She eventually became a medical doctor, married, escaped from Vietnam and now lives in Canada.

In 1996, Kim agreed to speak on Veterans' Day in Washington, D.C., before a crowd of veterans.  She spoke briefly and movingly, noting, “God saved my life and gave me faith and hope.”

She then uttered healing words:  “Even if I could talk face-to-face with the pilot who dropped the bomb, I would tell him we cannot change history, but we should try to do good things for the present and for the future to promote peace.”  The veterans broke into an explosion of applause.

One man rushed to a security officer with a note, asking him to deliver it to Kim. “I'm the man you are looking for,” the note read.  Asked if she was willing to see him, she said “yes.”

Kim looked into the man's eyes.  She extended the same arms she had raised as she ran in agony from the napalm bomb. She hugged the man and he began to sob. “I'm so sorry. I am just so sorry,” he said. “It is okay. I forgive. I forgive,” she said, echoing her favorite Bible verse, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

A new photo of a young Vietnamese mother embracing an ex-soldier supplanted the infamous photo of a terrified little girl.  Her words and that striking new image symbolize for me the meaning of forgiveness in the Word of God.

God blessed King David in Jerusalem.  But lust got the better of David, who engineered the death of Bathsheba’s husband.  David married Bathsheba and she bore a son. But David realizes how wrong this was, and asks God’s forgiveness. God always forgives, if we are truly sorry.

The author of the Book of Samuel may be asking: do we ask for the forgiveness of one another when we are truly sorry?

In the Gospel according to Luke, the author describes a penitent woman at the house of a Pharisee who invited Jesus to dine with him.  The author doesn’t name the woman; she’s simply “a sinner.”  She anoints the feet of Jesus and dries them with her hair.  Jesus forgives the woman and welcomes her as a friend.

A primary characteristic of discipleship is forgiveness.  Forgiveness is the conscious decision to let go of anger and resentment toward someone who has hurt us. Yet it does not imply condoning or excusing what the person did.

Forgiveness is asking God for the grace to participate in the forgiveness of the Risen Christ so that we can be at peace with ourselves and one another.

Letting go is never easy.  But it is part of the death that precedes resurrection.

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