The LORD said to Moses,”Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy… You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
We have two themes in our readings for this coming Sunday: become holy and perfect as our heavenly Father is and love others, bearing no hatred or grudge towards one another. These two themes are intricately connected. Our Psalm this week is about the mercy of God as an attribute of His holiness. He is slow to anger, abounding in kindness, compassionate towards sinners, forgiving of transgressions. Basically, we become holy through forgiving others.
It’s always seemed unfair to me that when someone else sins against me, it’s now on me to forgive them or else I’m sinning. Not only have they hurt me or sinned against me, but they’ve also tempted me to sin by creating anger and bitterness towards them. And yet, God says forgiveness is a vital action we must take to become holy.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray this prayer every week, but do we really mean it? Sometimes I wonder if everyone who prays this actually wants God to forgive them in the same manner that they forgive others. I smile every time I pray this prayer, because I know the incredible challenge that lies ahead. If I’m going to pray these words out loud, I better mean it. And if I mean it, I better forgive others because I’m asking God to forgive me in the same way, or on the flip side, hold the same grudge towards me that I hold towards others.
Forgiveness is an action we just can’t fake and it’s not as easy as we think it is. So how the heck do we do it? Our readings for this week walk us through the steps we must take. Our second reading from 1 Corinthians says, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” In other words, do you not know that the Spirit of God dwells in that person with whom you are angry? That person that has hurt you, that person that angers you, that person you just can’t seem to forgive, they have the Spirit of God in them. They are a beloved child of God. Begin seeing them through the eyes of God. Recognize that the pain they create often comes from a place of pain within their own hearts. Let your anger melt into compassion.
Our Gospel reading this week gives us the next step, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” Begin praying daily for those you are struggling to forgive. When they pop up in your mind, pray for them. Pray for their success, their happiness, their comfort, their soul.
I’ve found that, at times, I’ve needed a final symbolic step to really let go of the grudge and bitterness I’ve held. Maybe I’ve needed to confront the person one-on-one to tell them I had forgiven them or that I was sorry for holding bitterness for so long. Other times, I needed to throw away an object that reminded me of that bitterness. Once I even found myself at the lake with a rock in my hand symbolizing all the hurt I had held. When I was ready, I threw it in the lake knowing it was done. I had let go. I was choosing to take a step towards holiness and away from continued darkness. The moment I threw that rock, the moment I achieved true forgiveness, I realized I wasn’t doing it for them, I was doing it for myself. The burden had been lifted, my heart had become open, and overwhelming joy flooded my soul. Most (if not all) of God’s commandments (even the weird ones in the Old Testament) are for our benefit. God wants us to live free, joy-filled lives. His command to forgive others is no different. When we hold a grudge, it’s like packing our backpacks with a load of rocks. It will weigh us down. We won’t be able to run or dance. The pain will become overwhelming. Take off the backpack. Feel the joy of forgiveness.
It’s difficult to let go of the pain others have caused us. It feels like if we let go, we’re saying that what they’ve done is okay. It’s not okay. But let God deal with it. Your job is not to prove who is right and wrong, your job is to become holy. Or as the popular quote says, “Let go and let God.”