I live in South Africa. We are a people who have spent approximately 300 years learning how to hate one another. We have good reason to hate, because our ancestors robbed and killed each other at the point of a gun or the end of a spear. More recently we have used military might, and government legislation to confiscate the land and livelihood of people based on the colour of their skin. Yet, when Nelson Mandela led the creation of a new country, he noted: 'When a deep injury is done to us, we never heal until we forgive'  Nobody disagrees with him that we have needed to learn to forgive. But as the years have passed – another question has emerged: Just how long must this forgiveness continue? At what point do we abandon the ‘rainbow nation’ and move on to ‘winner takes all’? The practice of democracy has little room for forgiveness. However, the praxis of Jesus is all about forgiveness.
The context of the above scripture passage is a response to a question raised by the apostle Peter. He seems to have understood that Jesus teaches forgiveness as a core life value. Peter’s problem lay in exactly how many times Jesus expected his disciples to be forgiving? Jesus does not shy away from a straight answer: Jesus tells us that God’s Kingdom values are Grace and Mercy. Our understanding of the Grace that God has extended to us is demonstrated in the measure by which we extend the same forgiving values to those around us. This echoes the words of the Lord’s Prayer – “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. This does not mean that we are to ignore injustice by means of forgiveness. Instead, when we have a forgiving heart, our pursuit of justice is not motivated by revenge, but instead comes from a desire to see the Kingdom values of God expressed in our daily lives.
Today I share in the Convocation of the Order of Deacons of the British Methodist Church. My invitation to those in the Convocation is simple: your Grace-filled conduct towards each other over the next few days will be a visible demonstration of how you understand the Grace of God. And if you are finding it hard to be forgiving of someone else at the Convocation – perhaps you can at least hear the plea in the parable to “have patience”.
In the same way my invitation those who follow Jesus in South Africa: and indeed to all Jesus-followers everywhere: our capacity to be forgiving of one another is the visible expression of the presence of God amongst us all. Let us not give up on the pursuit of justice! But as we do so, let us use grace and mercy as our tools to fashion our new national identity.
“Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering--remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning”
Pray for: Carole Smith (Oxford); David Smith (Liverpool); Hilary Smith (Bury St Edmonds)
Readings taken from the lectionary in the Prayer Book of the British Methodist Diaconal Order