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Tony Campolo, “Models for Forgiveness”

July 12, 2012

I really like listening to Campolo for 10 minutes.
Thought to consider:  It’s only the person who is the most innocent who is the first to say “It’s all my fault” ^^


Tony Campolo, “Models for Forgiveness”
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“Models for Forgiveness”

When you pray the Lord’s Prayer, you can’t help but come across these words: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” And in case you missed the message, at the end of the prayer Jesus adds these words in the red letters. He says, “If you forgive others their trespasses, so will God forgive you your trespasses; but if you refuse to forgive another, neither will you be forgiven.” Jesus modeled forgiveness and I want to pick up his thesis.

First of all, if there’s going to be forgiveness, if you’re going to forgive like Jesus wants you to, you have to take the initiative for reconciliation. One time I was speaking at a church in south New Jersey and as I was in the pulpit, I looked down and there was this mean looking woman sitting on the front row. Needless to say, I wasn’t going to preach to that side of the church! I shifted to the other side and there was another mean looking lady. She was identical. I did a double take. After the service was over I asked who they were. The deacon said, “Well, they’re twin sisters.”

I said, “They’re sitting on opposite sides of the church?”

He said, “They’ve had a disagreement.”

I said, “How long has this been going on?”

He said, “23 years.”

I said, “It’s a good thing they don’t live together!”

He said, “They do.”

I didn’t talk to either of them, but if I had, I know what would have happened. The first would have said, “I’m willing to forgive my sister, but in the 23 years since this thing has happened, she’s never once asked for forgiveness! Now how can you forgive somebody if that somebody doesn’t ask for forgiveness?” If you go to the other woman I have a strong suspicion she would say exactly the same thing: “I’m willing to forgive my sister but she’s never asked for forgiveness!” Each waits for the other to take the initiative. The truth is that Jesus took the initiative. He didn’t wait for you to come to him. The Scripture says while we were yet in our sin, he came to us and offered us reconciliation, offered us forgiveness. He did not wait for us to come to him. That’s an important theme to grapple with.

Secondly, we have to come to grips with the fact that we must assume responsibility for what’s gone wrong. You say, what if I’m not responsible? Assume responsibility anyway. Jesus did that. When he was on the cross it says this: He who never sinned, became sin. He became the sinner. He became the guilty because this is the reality that every sociologist knows. Only good people know how to ask for forgiveness and only those who have done wrong need it. So that means the innocent have to take the responsibility of working for reconciliation, of bringing the relationship back together again.

Now, I did some marriage counseling in the days gone by and I always knew when the problem was going to solved. The couple would sit there and if wasn’t going to be solved I knew how the conversation would develop. He would start off by saying, “Well, I’ve got to tell you, what she’s done is really destructive to our relationship.” And she’ll say, “Just a minute. You’re putting the blame on me. You’re not putting the blame on yourself. You are the one to be blamed!” Back and forth. Back and forth. If you’re charging by the hour you’re going to get rich on this couple!

But every once in a while a couple would come in and sit down and one would say, “You know, it’s my fault. Everything that’s gone wrong is my fault.”

And in reaction he says, “Wait a minute! How can you say that? I’m the one that did…”

“No, no,” she says, “it’s my fault.”

He says, “No, it’s my fault!” When they come that way they’re on their way to wholeness and reconciliation for a very simple reason and I find this to be true. It’s always the person who is the most innocent who is the first to say, “It’s all my fault.”

I’ve got to tell you this about Jesus. When he hung on the cross, he took upon himself our sin, our guilt. He made himself the guilty in order to make us the innocent. Note: in your relationship with God, God becomes the sinner and you become the innocent one. There is an exchange. There is a transference. There is a transformation that is crucial to recognize.

There is a third thing to note and it’s this. If there is going to be real forgiveness, you must not only take the initiative and take the first step in bringing about reconciliation, you must not only take the responsibility for what’s gone wrong in the relationship, but you have to do this: you have to ask God to empower you to forgive. I’m a mystic. I believe that the same Jesus who died on the cross, the same God who created the universe is alive in the world and if you will surrender to him, he will invade you and he will empower you to forgive.

Some years ago I was asked to speak at a peace rally in Portadown, Northern Ireland. That’s the flash point between the Catholics and the Protestants and the struggles that have gone on for hundreds of years. The anger and the violence between those two groups is something that is world known. As I came into the city hall at Portadown I was stunned because the chairs were arranged in a frightening manner. On one side there were chairs facing in towards the center in which all the Protestants were seated. On the other side there were chairs on which all the Catholics were seated. I thought, “Oh my. They can’t even get together for this peace rally!” I didn’t understand what was about to happen.

A man stood and said, “I’m a Protestant. Over the years I’ve hated Catholics. Over the years I’ve despised them and I’ve done terrible things to Catholics that I can’t even name. Will you forgive me?” And the Catholics on the other side said with one voice, “In the name of Jesus, we forgive you.”

Men on the Catholic side stood and said, “I’ve done terrible, terrible things. I’ve been a terrorist. I was a member of the IRA. I set off bombs and I’m asking you to forgive me in the name of Jesus. I have come to know Jesus as my Savior and my Lord and I’m asking you for forgiveness.” And the Protestants with one voice said, “We forgive you.” It went back and forth like that for an hour. It was incredible!

The last man was in a wheelchair, without any legs. He said, “I always hated Protestants. But when I turned on the ignition of my car and a bomb went off and I lost my legs, I hated them with such an intensity that I wanted to kill every one I could see! And then my priest prayed with me and I invited the spirit of Christ to come in and he has transformed me. I have forgiven the man who did this to me.”

A Protestant man stood on the other side and said, “He’s telling you the truth. I’m the one who set the bomb and he has forgiven me.” The Catholic man in the wheelchair spoke up again and said, “He’s only telling you part of the story. The reality is this: my wife died two years ago and I had no place to go, no one to care for me. My Protestant friend has been changed by the same Jesus that changed me. When he found out that I was all alone, he invited me to live with him and he’s been taking care of me ever since. We have become brothers in Christ.”

Now that’s a spiritual miracle. That’s something that is not simply human, it’s superhuman. And it’s what can happen to any person. There are people in your family, there are friends that you may have that drifted away, you’re alienated, you’re cut off, and you’re saying, “I don’t know whether I can ever forgive. I don’t know whether I can ever forget.” You’re right you can’t, but with God all things are possible. The same spirit that was in Christ will come into you.

I was talking to a group of junior high boys and I said to these boys in a Sunday school class, “The Bible talks about grace, the forgiveness that becomes because of the grace of God. Do any of you know what grace means?” This one boy with a kind of sheepish smile said, “Well, if a cop waves you over to the side of the road for speeding and comes over and gives you a ticket because you were speeding that’s justice. If he comes over and gives you a warning and lets you go, that’s mercy. But after he waves you over to the side of the road for speeding, comes over to the side of the road and gives you a Krispy Kreme Donut, that’s grace!”

That’s grace. It’s giving what in fact is not deserved. Jesus forgave you. You don’t deserve it but he gives it as a gift. We are saved by grace through faith not of works, lest any man should boast. Forgive as Jesus has forgiven you. It’s what you pray in the Lord’s Prayer. It’s what you must do. I say this to you, those of us who have received grace have to be willing to give grace.

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