Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said,
for they do not know what they are doing.”
And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the King of the Jews. Luke 23:32-38
Without forgiveness, there is no relationship between God and me.
Theologically speaking, forgiveness flows from God to me, covers the multitude of my sin, and reconciles me to God. (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Relationally speaking (and you know this is the part I like), forgiveness makes a way for Love.
Forgiveness--deeply accepted, truly experienced--leads us past the theoretical transaction from bad to good, and into the land of the Living.
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-50
When we come to this first Word of the Seven Last Words, often our first instinct is to build a rule.
"Jesus forgives, even when he's being nailed to a cross! You better forgive just like that!"
And, with that, "Forgive" becomes a condemnation: you haven't done "forgive" right.
Failure to "forgive right" brings guilt and shame and a need for rules to keep that guilt and shame at bay.
And once we've built the rules and exercised them to our heart's content, "Forgive" becomes a self-righteous barricade to Love, because we think we've done it so well.
Then it becomes a weapon of mass destruction (the Christian F word) as we wield it against the wounded.
Here's how it goes: "We're the Christians. We're fine. We don't need to receive forgiveness any more. We repented when we got saved, and we've kept the rules ever since. Forgiveness isn't for US! We just need to pass it out, like stale Valentine candy, from the goodness of us to the badness of other people (as long as those people now consent to live by our rules)."
That's what happens when we THINK forgiveness instead of RECEIVE forgiveness.
That's what happens when we make a rule instead of living in relationship.
That's what happens when we live like the rulers, instead of the woman with the jar of perfume.
If we want to live like the woman, in relationship, in Love, we've got to get this:
We are all in so much trouble.
No matter how many rules we've kept.
Or, as the book of Galatians suggests, BECAUSE of the many rules we've kept.
(Did we think that having been saved by grace we could continue on in works? Well. Yeah. Pretty much. That's how all us good girls and good boys live.)
But there's so much more than just keeping the rules.
There's something BEYOND THE RULES: full and rich and deep and free.
And we can't get to relationship without forgiveness, because the rules are broken, broken, broken, and they never led to Love anyway.
The Law--whether the old law of Moses or the new law of whatever your particular denomination dictates--is without power to save us, (Romans 8:3) and it's sure without power to set Love in our hearts.
If we don't receive forgiveness here and now, when Jesus offers it to us, if we immediately start thinking about how we've failed in forgiveness and start rectifying our failure with guilt and rules--we'll miss out on who Jesus is, and who he can be TO US.
Here's who he is TO ME today.
The Lover of my Soul, when I'm mean-spirited and when I use words that hurt my best beloveds.
The Lover of my Soul, who always forgives, even when I forget that I need it.
That's who Jesus is to all of us: the one who sees, the one who knows, the one who Loves.
And he loves us with forgiveness.
He knows how to look past the ugliness of prostitution and leprosy and demon possession and death.
He can see past the arrogance of religiosity and he knows how to look past the ugliness in me.
Whatever blocks a life of health and joy and peace, Jesus is here to heal it.
No matter how great the sin, Love is greater.
Love goes first, to do whatever must be done, and it starts with forgiveness.
It's like Anne Lamott said in her Facebook status a few weeks ago. She was talking about having moments of silent confession in church and she said to God, "Well, we both know what you've got to work with here."
Because all us people are just so people-ish. Regardless of our best rules, our best efforts, our best intentions, we just can't stop ourselves.
And then Jesus comes along.
And he lays it all down.
All the power.
He lays it down.
All the Love.
He lays it down.
And that's it.
No tricks, no games, no craziness, no manipulation, no narcissistic need for admiration.
Just healing and wholeness.
Forgiveness, full and free.
He knows what he's got to work with.
He sees past all my crap, past the walls and the cynicism and the sarcasm, into the soft, broken heart of me, and he wants a relationship.
And he wants that so much that he goes first, into forgiveness.
And he makes a way for me to love him extravagantly, because I've been forgiven so much.
It's so far beyond rules, I can't even see them from here.
It's life and health and joy and peace.
No matter how much I receive, there's always an ocean more: "the real source, the deep well, the constantly flowing stream." (Richard Rohr)
It starts to seem like, the more I wade and swim and splash and float in this fountain of grace, that there is enough for all of us.
It starts to seem like forgiveness isn't this hard and horrible rule that I have to summon up out of myself, like it or not.
It starts to seem like forgiveness is Jesus, and as we all live in Jesus, then forgiveness flows in and around and between and through.
And Love gets born in and around and between.
May we kneel here at the foot of the Cross and let it wash us clean.
May we receive forgiveness, full and free.
May Love find us here and flow through us, a river of Life.
the lament of eustace scrubb, the oh hellos
brother, forgive me
we both know I'm the one to blame
when I saw my demons
I knew them well and welcomed them
but I'll come around
father, have mercy
I know that I have gone astray
when I saw my reflection
it was a stranger beneath my face
but I'll come around
when I touch the water
they tell me I could be set free
so I'll come around