And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” (Lk 17:4)
Over the years I have to come to the conclusion that Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate, has either enhanced my understanding of forgiveness or completely destroyed it. The only problem is I cannot decide which one it is.
This feeling returned to me as I read an interview he once gave with Krista Tippett, the host of “On Being.” In the interview, he was asked about forgiveness. He responded, “We plead with God for forgiveness, and God forgives, I hope. But one thing He does not forgive: the evil I have done to other fellow human beings. Only they can forgive. If I do something bad to you, I cannot ask God to forgive me. You must forgive me.”
There were times in my life where I would have argued against his view. The source of my counter-argument would have been the verse listed above from Luke. Then I would have included the upgrade version found in Matthew 18, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Somewhere I would have worked in the importance of loving your enemy. But now, I find myself agreeing with Elie Wiesel. When I read this morning’s scripture, it dawned on me, maybe Jesus does too.
There is something terrifying to hear a person say, “God does not forgive… ” However, Wiesel’s words touch on a problem I have struggled with for a long time. How to forgive people who do not ask for it. How do you forgive when the action hurts and the person inflicting the pain feels they did nothing wrong to you? All the while trying to be faithful to forgiving seven to seventy-seven times a day.
Wiesel’s understanding is grounded in the Holocaust. How could he forgive Hitler if Hitler does not see what he did as wrong? There is no reconciliation or healing in this type of forgiveness. The key word in this reading is “repent.” People tend to gloss over the word. Matter of fact, I’ve come to believe we hate the word. It’s a somewhat justifiable hatred because people have abused the understanding.
If I offend you, I can pray to God to forgive me and God will forgive me. However, a fracture will remain between you and I until I dare enough to say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” Repentance is the conversation that takes place between two fractured people. It allows not only forgiveness, but reconciliation and healing to happen. Without it, fractured relationships can feel like a giant millstone is hanging from your neck. In the days ahead, it will be important for us as a nation to remember this lesson. The way to remove the burden is to ask your neighbor to help you get it off from around your neck.
Click to read: Luke 17: 1-5