Lockdown -an opportunity to relearn how we do forgiveness and reconciliation
In Sunday’s Zoom talk I talked about moving from submitting to the ruler of this world to submitting to Christ. One aspect of this was that we should move from holding onto bitterness and hate to learning to show compassion and forgiveness. This led to a question at the end about how we can do that, particularly in the context of lockdown.
I suggested that in fact, lockdown might give us a chance to rethink and get better at this. Matthew 18:15 -17 says
“ “If your brother or sister[b] sins,[c] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[d] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
So often, these verses are treated as a kind of legalistic process with stages to go through, and in fact, it can almost become a case of “How do we quickly as possible get to the stage when we can present our case in front of as many as possible so that we get justice.” In fact one consequence of Matthew 18 should be that issues are kept to the smallest number possible.
Further, we tend to see the 1-1 meeting and those with witnesses as the opportunity to get every grievance on the table. So the complainant turns up ready to tell the respondent exactly how they have been hurt in glorious detail. From their perspective it becomes an opportunity for a form of vengeance. The other person will suffer hurt and shame so that you are even. In return, the respondent arrives armed with their own case, this includes a defence of their actions, they are looking for the opportunity to explain in detail why they are at least excused and vindicated and why the other person is in the wrong, from there, they are able to tell the original complainant all the things that they have done wrong themselves.
This means that Matthew 18 becomes a scary, legalistic passage and we run away from it. We find the possibility of meeting with someone to sort things out a frightening prospect. This cannot be right. 1 John 4:18 says
18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
This is why I think lockdown gives us an opportunity to re-calibrate, or at least this phase. We are not able to have lengthy indoor meetings with lots of people present. However, we can go for short, socially distanced walks to try and talk things through. So, how do we best use those times? I want to suggest that instead of using them to try and shame others into apologies and hurt them back, if we have been sinned against that we simply say
“What you did/said hurt me.”
What if then instead of responding by seeking to excuse ourselves and bring counter charges, we simply respond by saying.
The final words should be
“I forgive you”
We take the fear and the recrimination out of things and replace it with compassion and brotherly love. We learn to hold less tightly to our own sense of pride and more tightly to our concern for our brothers and sisters, for their well-being.
WE might just learn habits that will serve us well when we come out of lockdown too.