Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, was known for her sweet and kind disposition. In fact, it was widely reputed that she never held a grudge.
The story is told that a friend once reminded her of some hurtful act done to her years before. When Ms Barton seemed unaware of the event, her friend persisted, “Don’t you remember how much (she) hurt you?”
“No,” Clara Barton cheerfully responded. “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”
What a great attitude! And what a great example of forgiveness. Her spirit reminds me of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who once said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.”
Jesus, who taught unlimited forgiveness, displayed that attitude as he hung dying on the cross at the hands of wicked men. He said, “Father, forgive them” (Lk. 23:34).
We are challenged to a greater spirit of forgiveness as we think about what lead up to these events.
God became man. He gave up the riches of heaven. He humbled himself. He lived among men. As a man. He was tired. Hungry. Thirsty. He suffered. He was tempted. Yet without sin.
But he was also God. The life. And light. The light that shone in the darkness, but the world didn’t get it. He spoke with authority unlike any other man. He healed the sick. The lame walked. The deaf heard. The blind regained sight.
Yet, sin blinded the eyes of the very ones who should have seen who He was. He came to them. But they didn’t see Him. As the prophet predicted they saw no beauty in Him to desire him. In fact they hated him.
And now humankind sunk to a new low. They not only did not receive Him. They rejected him. After a joke of a trial. False witnesses who suborned perjury. Now he’s hanging on a cross. Dying.
The curious onlookers mockingly challenge, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!”
The smug religious leaders snidely remarked, “He saved others; but he cannot save himself.”
Even “one of the criminals who hung on the cross next to Jesus “hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
And all the while the crowds passed by, leering and jeering at Jesus.
Really? You rail against a righteous sufferer? You ridicule someone exposed to painful and humiliating torture? You mock a dying man?
But what does Jesus say as he looks down on the those blasphemers who with snide remarks are sneering at him mocking ? How does he react? With anger? Disgust? Vindictiveness?
As he hangs there in excruciating pain he prays, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Jesus preached forgiveness in the Mountain Message. He reminded Peter that forgiveness is not limited to an arbitrary number. He demonstrated it at the last supper when His apostles were arguing over their position in the kingdom. Now when His suffering is unbearable and His enemies are reveling in their triumph, he practices forgiveness when it must be the most difficult.
Jesus not only talked the talk. He walked the walk. And He serves as the supreme example of offering forgiveness to those who least deserve it.
As we reflect on Jesus’ attitude, surely this Biblical exhortation takes on a new meaning and practical application: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32).
-Ken Weliever, The Preacherman