The Physics of Forgiveness


(“Looking for Forgiveness”, by Damian Gadal, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)


Daily Office Readings for Friday, March 1, 2019:


AM Psalm 140, 142; PM Psalm 141, 143:1-11(12)

Ruth 3:1-18; 2 Cor. 4:1-12; Matt. 5:38-48


The cadence and the pattern of our Gospel reading today conjures up visions of Newton’s third law of motion–for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  


Generally speaking, the Old Testament follows that formula.  “An eye for an eye.”  “A tooth for a tooth.”  The legal codes in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy try to approximate just compensation for all sorts of wrongdoings ranging from donkey stealing, to adultery, to murder.  These codes are not original; they approximate offenses and punishments in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi. Even our present day justice system works off of the idea that we can somehow approximate an offense with a reasonably equal punishment.


This is an incredibly hard piece of Scripture to hear, if we have ever been a victim of violence.  It’s a piece of Scripture that has been twisted over the years to subjugate women and the oppressed or marginalized.  It’s a Scripture that throws the cogs spinning in our heads of how we imagine justice to a screeching halt–and locks our brains until we feel smoke coming out of our ears.  Something deep in our reptile brain says, “Wait a minute! People who do bad things should be punished. People who hurt me, deserve to be hurt. People who steal from me ought to have to pay it back.”


If we listen carefully, though, to Jesus’ words following his statements about not returning violence for violence, my bet is that everyone who heard this felt “This is impossible”–and my bet is also that Jesus knew each of us would fail at it at times.  What he goes on to say after that is for us to stretch ourselves.


“Being perfect” as it is used here, means more about trying to be more like God, than it means to engage the impossible task of being flawless.  Too often, we imagine God as long on judgment and short on mercy. But what if the path to our own wholeness depends more on the inner workings of divine mercy than it does about what happens to the person who wronged us?  Jesus’ intent is for us to practice forgiveness when forgiveness is difficult. But where to start?


If you’ve never visited Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s Forgiveness Project website, give it a look.  It’s full of amazing stories of ordinary people who found seemingly impossible paths to forgiveness and how it gave them new life.  If you’ve been looking for resources for a Lenten study, you might find their downloads or one of their books useful.


How might a new way of finding forgiveness upend the laws of motion in your own life?


Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri . She presently serves as Interim Assistant Priest at two churches, Church of the Good Shepherd in Town and Country, MO, and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Manchester, MO, as they explore a shared ministry model.

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Lexiann Grant
Lexiann Grant

an aside on a reference in today’s readings above:
Ever use the expression, “Rule of Thumb?” Don’t! It too comes from the Code of Hamurabi and states that a man may beat his wife with rod no larger than his thumb! Grr.

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