LORD, HELP MY UNFORGIVENESS


Second Sunday of Easter


"Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (Jn 20:19-31)


I can imagine that in this social climate that we are in, many would say that they can never forgive the racist acts and comments they have heard over the years. In my experience, images still appear pre-Covid of some White people refusing to shake my hands during the sign of peace in the church. When using the exact words of Jesus to greet white people, peace be with you; some White individuals never felt compelled by the Gospel message to extend their hands warmly. Lord, help my unforgiveness!


Similar acts and many more continue to haunt our society today. We hear the same gospel narrative week after week. What is happening? Why is it that the sin of racism can cause one to disregard the dignity of our brothers or sisters; before the church doors open, during the church service, and after the final doxology and amen? We are all biologically related. We all have red blood. The problem here is that we are different cultures drawing from divergent experiences and traditions using our interpretive lenses for Jesus' words, "Peace be with you!" The peace that Jesus is asking us to give is for everyone. Lord, help my unforgiveness!


My brother and sister, Jesus is transparent in John's gospel today. "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." Granted, we must forgive all sinful acts, including racism. However, Jesus is challenging us to understand that if we don't forgive the sins of our brothers or sisters, we will keep their sins with us. Unfortunately, we seldom converse about this spiritual component of failing to forgive. We don't think about the ramifications of our sinfulness when not forgiving. Listen to Jesus' words again, "whose sins you retain are retained." Some people have so much unforgiveness embedded in their hearts; that they even carry that bitterness to their grave. Lord, help my unforgiveness!


The spiritual giant, Henri Nouwen, has a profound take on forgiveness. Nouwen states, "Forgiveness means that I continually am willing to forgive the other person for not fulfilling all my needs and desires." Let's look at two significant points. We must continually be willing to forgive, as Jesus told Peter, seventy times seven. Then, we must recognize, which is very hard, that the other person will never be able to heal our wounded hearts. As Nouwen also said, "Our heart longs for satisfaction, for total communion. But human beings, whether it's your husband, your wife, your father, mother, brother, sister, or child, are all limited in giving the level of love and acceptance we all crave."


We are imperfect beings trying to love each other through all our sins and unforgiveness. As mentioned above, I remember the wounds of an incident over 50 years ago. Here we enter a deep awareness through the love of Jesus that only God can forgive us beyond seventy times seven, and as human beings, we are unable to do. God's love for us is unlimited. Our love is limited. God's grace is sufficient. We have no grace to offer. God's mercy is new every morning, and we don’t wake up unless God calls us. For this reason, the second petition in the Lord's Prayer is essential, "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Mt. 6:12). We must be willing to forgive the other continually and ask for God’s forgiveness for our sins of omission and commission.


Jesus demonstrated this unlimited love toward Thomas. Remember, Thomas spoke real boldly, telling everyone what he would believe. Jesus returned to the house where the disciples were and gave Thomas another chance to believe. Jesus looked past Thomas’s stubbornness to help Thomas in his unbelief. Let us today examine our conscience. We must be willing to forgive each other, regardless of cultural differences, poor interpretation of the scriptures, and the sin of racism, which is a tool to keep a system in place for the privilege. We must remove the sting of unforgiveness in hearts today.


Lord, help me in my unforgiveness by receiving your Holy Spirit! Uncover the areas in my life where the sting of unforgiveness lies. Remove the thorns in my heart: bitterness, envy, misery, strife, and other sins that continue to wound me. Give me a clean heart, merciful God, so that I may serve you and my neighbor. I Surrender All!


Peace be with you.


Nouwen, Heri. J. M., Wisdom for the Lone Walk of Faith - Spiritual Direction, (HarperCollins: New York, 2006) 120.


Author: Evangelist Michael P. Howard, MACS

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