“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” – Matthew 6:12
A man driving drunk ran a red light, killing the driver of another car, a young mother of twin toddlers. At the man’s sentencing, the woman’s relatives delivered enraged witness impact statements. Faces contorted with grief, they screamed at him in open court. The kindest thing they said was, “Rot in hell!”
Watching the news, I thought, I don’t blame them one bit. How else should they feel about a careless man who caused them this terrible loss?
Then it was the husband’s turn. He faced the man and said, “I’m a Christian. Jesus commanded us to forgive. So I forgive you.”
At that, the man let out a wail and slumped over in his seat as if struck by a mighty blow. I felt struck too. How could the husband forgive him? Was he in denial? Didn’t he need more time, more therapy, more something, before offering forgiveness? Wasn’t the pardon too easy, too cheap?
Then I wondered why it felt less alien to me to be enraged and vengeful than it did to say, “I forgive you.”
Sometimes I’m asked to name Christianity’s most distinctive practice. I always say forgiveness. Some people object. Not love? Doesn’t Paul say love is the greatest of all? Won’t it be the last thing standing when all is ended? Yes, I say, but I am certain that on the day of love’s triumph, it will appear in the shape of a bewildered enemy inexplicably absolved.
Merciful Jesus, when I pray The Lord’s Prayer and ask you to forgive me my trespasses, show me my enemy. Don’t let me slide over the “as.”
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.