As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:12-17 NRSV
This is a familiar passage I’ve often heard in part used as a final blessing at the end of the Eucharist, a kind of comfortable charge to take away and use for the rest of the coming week. Whether or not Paul actually wrote the letter to the Colossians, it packs a lot into a short space, a bit unlike Paul’s convolutions and reiterated phraseology.
The first thing that catches my attention is the calling of attention to the fact that the listeners to this letter are, in fact, God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. Sometimes it is hard to remember that, especially when feels a bit like Joe Btfsplk, a character in the long-running L’il Abner comic strip, a poor soul who is under a permanent dark cloud and for whom everything he comes in contact becomes a disaster of some proportion. It’s good to have the reminder that God chose each and every one of us and that to God, we are loved and cherished.
The admonition of the passage comes with some instructions for how to live up to the billing God has for us, as compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient. I don’t think God has in mind for us to be doormats, but rather quiet-tempered folk, not egotistical, rude or too anxious to get to somewhere to do something we think is the most important thing in the world and definitely far more important than anyone else who might get in our way. Good advice, particularly in a world that values “I” more than “we” a lot of the time.
Now I have a problem. I get to the part about forgiving. The writer has hit a real nerve as I have a forgiveness problem. I’ve accumulated quite a little pile of resistance to forgiving people I think have wronged me in some way, going all the way back to the aunt who reminded me of my status as an adopted rather than blood child of the family to the mild snark from a friend which was most likely a joke but felt like a hammer blow. In between are a whole cast of thousands, or at least hundreds. God only knows why I hang on to such things. It is as if I were a hoarder only instead of collecting things, I collect hurts and resentments. I want to toss them out and start with bare walls and floor but they sneak back in and sit there like a ball of cat fur in the middle of the freshly-vacuumed floor. I know I have to forgive in order to move on; Jesus said so, Paul said so and so did a lot of others in the scriptures. What they didn’t say was how to make it stick. Maybe I just don’t have enough faith that I can really banish them, even with God’s help. Until then, clothing myself with love toward all my fellow human beings (along with other creatures and the whole earth, as a matter of fact) is pretty nigh impossible. I’m stuck.
I can be thankful, very thankful indeed. I can admonish and teach with some wisdom although maybe not as much wisdom as I’d like, and I can worship with singing for sure and very gratefully too. Yet I always come back to that sticking point — forgiveness. What power am I giving away by losing the hoard that I’ve maintained? What security do I find in hanging on to negativity and pain? Why am I afraid of letting go?
Perhaps in that comfortable benediction I am reminded that I’ve got this weight on my back that needs to be relieved. Just praying for it to go away doesn’t seem like enough, I think I need action, much as throwing out or recycling what used to be precious papers and things. I justify the belongings by saying that as soon as I get rid of something, within a couple of weeks (or a month or two) I will need it again and have to go and buy another one. It’s happened more than once. But there have also been a lot of times when I’ve never really missed whatever it was. Wouldn’t it be really great if I threw out some resentments and hurts and didn’t miss them afterwards? The trick is to actually expect that result when I do pitch them.
Maybe I need to heed the words of Jesus to the effect that “to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).” Thinking about it, I have been given a lot over the course of my life, so why do I think I have a pass to forget those things and cherish the bad stuff? Like Paul wrote in Romans 7:15, “I do not do what I want, and hate the things I do.” I seem powerless to stop. The only hope is the grace of God, and my acceptance of it.
I need to work harder at forgiveness and remembering my special place as one of God’s chosen ones. Perhaps by doing those things the others will fall into place. The only thing is to try and try again. Sooner or later, I may be able to live fully into the whole passage. It’s what the journey of faith is about.
Taking that first step — that is the challenge.