Good morning, New Women, and "new" you are becoming, my friends. As we take this road trip to Jerusalem with Jesus, none of us is feeing smug and comfy about where we are as Christians. Hopefully there's an undergirding peace that comes from the fact that we're loved and will never be abandoned. Yet there's that almost palpable sense that we're at a crossroads: either we're going to live a life with Christ in everything that means. Or we're not.
That may be why we're still in Galilee. As we sit by campfires and hang out at cafes and gather on the porch of this small house-on-the-way. it's as if Jesus is saying, "I have to make sure you get this, or the death and rising that lie before us won't mean anything."
We're gathered around the fireplace in this small house we're learning in, and those of us who actually LIKE gooey, sticky white cubes of pure sugar are toasting them over the flames. What is it about a fire that opens us up? Warmed by its glow, we feel even freer to speak what's roiling inside us.
One of us (you, perhaps?), says, "Okay, so Jesus ... when we're talking about trying to work things out with people, what happens when it just won't get fixed? I mean, how many times are we supposed to forgive when somebody who keeps doing the same thing to us over and over? Would it be, like, seven times?"
Jesus takes the perfectly browned marshmallow someone offers from the end of her stick and seems to savor it, eyes closed, before he answers. The man is so content with the small things, even though he keeps talking about how when we get to Jerusalem, he's going to be kiilled.
"That's an excellent question," he says finally.
"Do not forgive seven times."
"Forgive seventy times seven."
Somebody does the math and says, "490?"
Some of us wonder if we're going to live long enough to forgive somebody that many times.
"You're using hyperbole again, aren't you?" someone says.
"A life with me WILL seem excessive to people who don't get it." Jesus wipes his sticky hands on his jeans. "What I'm saying to you is that your forgiveness needs to be endless because the Father's is."
A timid voice says, "But we're not God."
"You were made in God's image," Jesus says. "Let me give you an example. You remember little Maeryn?"
Like Nancy would ever let us forget her.
"She's three years old and like most three year olds she's testing her mom's limits every ten minutes. She's playing the, 'I'm not going to do what you asked JUST because it was you who asked me to do it.'" Jesus grins. "She's like a mini-teenager."
There are sheepish smiles all around. (Some of us are PARTICULARLY good at that game.)
"Maeryn's mom doesn't let her win because it wouldn't be doing Mae any favors. However, do you think at any point Marijean (the mom) says, 'I am never going to forgive you for this, Maeryn. In fact, I'm going to drop kick you all the way out to Nanny's house and you can live there until you shape up!'?"
"Hello, no!" we all cry.
"And Marijean isn't God, is she?"
Nancy is the first one to say "Uh, no." (She had to play that game with Mj at various times!)
"And yet in forgiving Maeryn over and over and over again, she is acting in the image of God." Jesus arches an eyebrow. "But is Marijean still teaching Maeryn? Still correcting her? Still allowing her to suffer the consequences when she pitches a hissy fit?"
Nancy says yes. The rest of us think of our own parents and nod.
"Where would you be if your parents had stopped forgiving you when you were three years old and were nearly impossible to live with at times?"
We can't even imagine it.
"Okay," Jesus says, "then we have to treat other people the way God treats us."
One of us (you, perhaps?) can't handle it any longer. "But doesn't that make us doormats? Somebody keeps doing the same heinous thing to us and we keep saying, 'Oh, that's okay'? I don't think I can do that!"
"You shouldn't do that," Jesus says, before a riot can ensue. "Marijean doesn't do that with her child. Your parents didn't do that with you. Forgiveness doesn't mean everything is okay and everybody can go back to what they were doing before."
"Then what DOES it mean," we ask.
Jesus says, "Look into the fire and just listen and I'll describe it to you."
We do that, each of us settling in, some of us still doubting, a few of us certain we've heard all this before and it has never worked and probably won't now. (Who are you in that group?)
"Forgiveness," Jesus says, means --
* not wishing the person any harm; not hoping something heavy will fall on her or she'll "get hers" for what she's done
* not badmouthing her to everyone who will listen -- and many people will because they love juicy gossip
* not expecting the person to make things right; you are forgiving a debt, so she doesn't owe you anything, even an apology; there are no pre-requisites for forgiveness, no 'I'll forgive you if ...'
* not allowing the hurt to make you bitter
* not allowing your hurt to keep you or the other person from healing
* praying for the person who has offended you, simply asking God to make his presence known to her, because no one hurts another person unless she herself is in pain"
A quiet descends and in it we hear someone softly crying (you?)
"What is it, darlin'?" Jesus says.
"I try to do all that," she says, "but the anger and the hurt just keeps coming back."
"I know," Jesus says. "That's why I've said forgive seventy time seven times -- until you realize it's done."
So it's not a one-time thing. We turn our eyes from the fire and look at each other, relief brimming in our eyes. It takes time. We don't have to beat ourselves up because we're unforgiving little snots. We're not.
"All God asks is that you keep trying, over and over and over again, Jesus says, once again reading our minds, "even if you're never reconiled with the person -- that's something different -- even if she never makes it right -- because sometimes that can't happen. I'm here to help you free her and yourself so you can heal."
Jesus goes off to the kitchen -- murmuring about the need for graham crackers and chocolate. We turn again to each other and begin to comment ... about how this applies to our own stuck places and what we need to focus on in this new concept of forgiveness.
When Jesus returns with the fixings for S'mores, we are deep in conversation.