I attended a new Bible study recently, and the first lesson was a heavy subject: forgiving those who betray you.
We studied how Jesus responded to Judas’s betrayal. Jesus is our example, the leader told us, showing us how to love even traitors. Jesus didn’t withdraw from Judas; He didn’t stop loving him even knowing he was lost. It’s a great test of our Christian character to walk in the Lord’s shoes, to forgive rather than retaliate, to love no matter what.
But suppose it’s Judas’s shoes we’re wearing? “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come!” we read in Luke 17:1 (New King James Version). Some of the harshest, sternest words in the New Testament are those of Jesus, speaking of those who offend, especially when they offend “little ones.” It’s small wonder the disciples’ first words after this lecture were, “Lord, increase our faith” (v. 5). The disciples were, perhaps, envisioning that millstone around the neck. How, they asked, can we avoid this fate?
In our discussion of Judas, we agreed it is hard for us humans to forgive betrayal. It takes time to pray through hurtful situations, to come to a place of being able to freely offer grace to an offending brother. The only thing more difficult is standing on the other side of the offense, to be the one needing forgiveness.
How hard it is to admit we need forgiveness. We are so adept at denial and rationalization. We build a wall to protect ourselves from the knowledge of our own failure and sinfulness, but the wall mainly serves to shut us off from God and from the people we have wounded. “‘Therefore,'” Jesus instructs in Matthew 5:23–24, “‘if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift'” (NKJV).
Be reconciled. Well, it sounds easy. All we have to give up is our pride. All we have to do is humble ourselves, admit we are fallible. Why is that so hard? Perhaps the more difficult a thing is, the more power it has.
“How difficult it is to humble ourselves and ask forgiveness; but how powerful, freeing, and healing it is when we do.”
Years ago, I, a Protestant, attended a large meeting held by the Catholic priest, Ralph DiOrio, known for his healing ministry. At the beginning of the service, he determined the audience was roughly half Catholic and half Protestant. He had all the Protestants stand, then instructed his Catholic brothers and sisters to look around, find a Protestant near them, and ask forgiveness if the Catholic Church had hurt that person in any way. I was with a close friend, standing just behind a sweet-faced Catholic woman, who turned and obediently said, “If the Catholic Church has hurt you in any way, please forgive us.” Then she added, “Oh, I hope we haven’t,” and my friend burst into tears. Her family had been Protestant pastors and missionaries for generations, and had encountered resistance, oppression, and even violence (in foreign countries) from Catholics opposed to their planting Protestant churches. That encounter transformed my friend, healing deep, long-standing wounds. It made an indelible impression on me.
In the 1970 movie Love Story, the heroine, Jennifer Cavalleri, played by Ali MacGraw, says the now-legendary line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Not true. Real love is always ready to reconcile, always ready to say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Judas, the class thought, could have been forgiven had he repented, had he humbled himself and asked. I’ve never understood Judas, but perhaps he just felt it was too hard. How difficult it is to humble ourselves and ask forgiveness; but how powerful, freeing, and healing it is when we do.