A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense
Les Miserables by Victor Hug
The story begins in 1815 in Digne, as the peasant Jean Valjean, just released from 19 years’ imprisonment in the galleys—five for stealing bread for his starving sister and her family and fourteen more for numerous escape attempts—is turned away by innkeepers because his yellow passport marks him as a former convict. He sleeps on the street, angry and bitter.
Digne’s benevolent Bishop Myriel gives him shelter. At night, Valjean runs off with Myriel’s silverware. When the police capture Valjean, Myriel pretends that he has given the silverware to Valjean and presses him to take two silver candlesticks as well, as if he had forgotten to take them. The police accept his explanation and leave. Myriel tells Valjean that his life has been spared for God, and that he should the use money from the silver candlesticks to make an honest man of himself.[i]
Of course there is much more to this story, as the book, in English, is well over 1500 pages long, so I will stop here.
I wonder how many of us would be so quick to forgive the thief. And not just forgive, but to cover for him? To afford him a second chance? How many of us would be so enraged at the injustice of the thief thinking that he can steal from us, that we wouldn’t tell everything to the police and have him taken away. And make sure that we take a day off from work if necessary to show up at court to assure he get’s what’s coming to him. After all, he’s just a thief. Is it possible at all that we would try to save him from certain death or at a minimum a seriously lengthy – perhaps lifelong – jail term? Should he have been arrested again?
I honestly don’t know what I would do. Many years ago my home was robbed. I felt so completely violated that someone had been in my home, touched my possessions. It was the worst feeling. I had a very difficult time getting past it. I wonder what I would have done if the thief had been apprehended. I would like to think that I would respond like Jesus, but I know my flesh. I know that I would see what he had done as a total injustice to me. Me. Me. Me.
Sometimes there is so little room for forgiveness in my life. There is little room for discussion – you did me wrong, now I am going to do you wrong. It makes me sad, but it is the truth. There is so much work to be done in me.
Let’s take a look at the One that had every right to smite his accusers. The ONE that had the ability to call down the wrath of God onto His accusers. He is the ONLY one that truly did not deserve the punishment that He got. But yet, He didn’t. He went as a silent lamb to the slaughter. Not once complaining and begging for mercy.
Throughout scripture, Jesus teaches us what to do
Matthew 5:39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
Matthew 5:41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
Luke 6:29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.
After all that’s what Jesus does for us? Every minute of ever hour of every day? He could so easily “turn us in” for our offenses. He could smite me for sure. He could call down the wrath of His Father and just take me out of this world. He could so easily keep a list of our transgression, but He doesn’t. In His infinite grace, over and over and over again, He forgives. And not just forgives, but forgets our offenses. How many of us can say that? I know I can’t. I wish that I could. I hope I can learn how to do that someday. I hope that one day I can learn how not to be offended, or enraged, by an injustice – true or perceived. I hope that someday I can be more like Jesus. I hope that I can set down the bitterness that rises up in me when I’m offended.
I like to think that I’m maturing in my Faith; perhaps just the tiniest bit. Lately there has been much crazy going on around here after an unprovoked, undeserved verbal assault was laid down on me. This has hurt my heart more than I can say.
Words, once spoken aloud, can never again be silenced. It’s been a long three months since the words were first spoken. I’ve been praying for the right words to respond. The old me would have immediately gotten on the phone and tore right back into that person. Oh forget getting on the phone… I probably would have gotten in my car and drove to my offender and called them out. Yup, it would not have been good at all. The battle would have escalated until there was no turning back and no way to recover.
The newer me has just kept silent… until last week. After much prayer (see below), weeks and weeks of prayer, I responded in writing to my offender. I replied to their points one by one with as little emotion as possible. I then sat on the letter for a few days before mailing it. I’m grateful that a dialog is beginning to open. A face to face sit down has not yet occurred, that is in the works. I don’t know that reconciliation is possible at this point in time, but forgiveness is absolutely possible.
My prayer: Lord, you know the things that are being told about me. You know what ______ said and did. And Lord, I’m hurt. I’m sad. What they did wasn’t justified and I just don’t know if I can overlook it, or pretend that it didn’t happen. Lord, give me the wisdom to know how to respond to them. I’m tired of the fighting, the stress, the anxiety that all of this brings. The only thing that I can do Lord, is to give this to You.
I ask that You reach down and touch _______. Let them feel your love and kindness and forgiveness as it fills their heart. Do not hold this against them, but rather let this be a time that they can learn from their behavior and experience the joy and peace that comes only through You. Bless ___________ in a mighty way. Thank you, Lord for helping me to slow down and count the cost of my actions. Help me and guide me each day to walk more like you. Amen.
Oh how I wish that I could tell you that when my offender first spoke badly of me, that I somehow was miraculously able to “turn the other cheek”, that I was not offended and hurt deeply by their words. But I was. I am so far from perfect. This life, my life, this road, path, whatever you want to call it; it’s a long one. There are bumps and turns and bends and holes that all seem to cause me to fall down and skin my knees more than a few times … the way is not smooth and easy.
But wasn’t it Jesus that said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30) (emphasis added)
More than “Take My Yoke” the words that really stick out to me are “Learn From Me”… Learn from Him. Learn from the One that is “Gentle” and “Humble in Heart”. Learn from Him and I will find rest for my soul. I pray that you can too.
Lord, help me to continue to learn from You. Help me when I am about to stumble and fall on the rocky, bumpy road that is my life. Help me Lord to be more like You. Help me Lord to learn Humility, Love, Patience, Kindness, Joy, Goodness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control… but most of all Lord help me to learn to walk and live in Peace. Amen.