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Jesus Christ emphasised the message of forgiveness while on earth and set the supreme example for us. This should be a constant reminder to always practice forgiveness towards others, as it is so easy to do the opposite.
On the morning of Oct. 2, 2006, a 32-year-old milk truck driver in the Amish area of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania took 10 young Amish girls, between the ages of 6 and 13, hostage. He shot and killed five of the girls and wounded the other five before turning the gun on himself.
As both locals and people around the world tried to make sense of this awful event a grieving grandfather warned family members not to fall prey to hatred, stating, “We must not think evil of this man.” Astonishingly, the Amish community responded with an attitude of forgiveness, with some even attempting to comfort members of the shooter's family.
This response of love from the grieving Amish overwhelmed all who heard about it.
Instead of focusing on the horrible details of the event, 2,400 media stories about forgiveness erupted around the planet (Ann Rogers, “Nickel Mines Legacy: Forgive First,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 30, 2007).
The widow of the shooter later wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbours: “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need... and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you” (quoted by Damien McElroy, “Amish Killer’s Widow Thanks Families of Victims for Forgiveness,” The Daily Telegraph, Oct. 16, 2006).
In Matthew 18:23-35 Christ related a parable that teaches us to extend the same grace we have received to those who are indebted to us. A man is forgiven his very large debt, but then demands someone who owes him a much smaller sum to pay up right away. When the benevolent master, who originally forgave him finds out about it, he withdraws his blessing and demands the original debt be repaid.
The two debts in the parable were very disproportionate, symbolising the difference between what God has forgiven us and what we need to forgive others. A huge debt has been forgiven us, a debt we can never repay, so we should be able to forgive anything smaller between ourselves.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry He spoke of loving your adversaries: “I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). He then underscored this focus in Matthew 6:14-15: “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
We have to forgive someone for an offense, flaw or mistake. Ideally we may want to go and talk to the offender or the offended, but if we can’t, we can still ask God in prayer to cleanse our conscience so we can go on in peace.
We may also feel trapped in guilt and shame for our own past sins. Some things we’ve done cannot be put right, but we can be forgiven by trusting in God’s promises while committing to live right and help those we’ve hurt. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
What a blessing it is to be freed of guilt (Psalms 32:1-2). Let us extend this same mercy to others and, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:32, “... be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
Beyond Today Magazine