In “The Empire Strikes Back,” when Luke Skywalker goes to Master Yoda to learn how to become a Jedi knight, he is subjected to intense physical training. However, the toughest training he faces is in the mental teachings of the tiny green Jedi Master. In one scene, when Luke’s starship sinks into the swampy waters, the declares rather dejectedly, “We’ll never get it out now!” Yoda points out that Luke has learned and seen how to lift rocks and things with the power of the Force. “Master, moving stones around is one thing; this is totally different!”
“No!” Yoda responds. “No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.”
The implication here is that everything that we have learned goes into forming our ideas and beliefs about what is possible, what is reasonable, what is normal. Yoda was seeking to break Luke out of that defeated mindset and see the wonderful possibilities of which he was capable.
Like that Jedi Master, Jesus also seeks to break us of preconceived notions of what we can do and what we cannot do – what is “only human” and what we were made to be by God. This is what our readings this weekend are teaching us, and they center on something that often seems “superhuman”: Forgiveness.
As Christians – hopefully – we have heard a lot about forgiveness and forgiving. It’s an ingrained part of our faith. Jesus, in His public ministry, often spoke to sinners and told them that they were forgiven. Even as He was lifted up after being nailed to the Cross, he said, “Father, forgive them…” When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we recite each time, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Today, Peter thinks he is being so very progressive when he suggests to Jesus that we should forgive “seven times” – seems like a good, biblical number, right?
But for all this talk of forgiveness – of “forgiving your neighbor’s injustice” and “setting enmity aside,” how good am I at it? Really – how good are we at forgiving? Not in theory, but when someone actually hurts us? That is the measure of how well we have heeded Christ’s teachings.
“But Father,” you might say, “they betrayed me!
“Jesus was God. He has to say those things.”
“God forgiving us is one thing. This is totally different.”
No different. Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned! If not, then we are no better than that wicked servant in the Gospel. And what have we learned – in this world of ours?
Revenge feels good! Anger fuels us. Remembering some past faults will keep me focused. Isn’t this the story of human struggle throughout history: one people harms another, war ensues, someone wins, and they both stew until the next time. As with nations, so too with us. My instinct – reinforced by TV, movies, and cultural practice – is to destroy those who wound me. It’s “only human.”
However, we seek to serve God, to listen to His Word and respond as that Word calls us. God is not served by your anger. God is not served by your righteous or self-righteous indignation. God is not served by your thin skin and readiness to be offended. God is not served by our need to be right or seen as right. God is not served by our desire for revenge or getting even. God is served only by your love. Nothing else unites what we do to God. Nothing.
If we want to break a cycle of seeing ourselves as victims or vengeance-takers, we must learn this lesson of forgiveness. It is not simple, and Jesus knows that. However, we may have defined forgiveness improperly. It does not mean that what someone did to hurt me was OK. It does not mean that I deserve to be mistreated. It does not mean that I will be open to harm again.
Instead, forgiveness is the remedy to victimhood; it is the cure for vengeance; it is the road to real peace – the only road, in fact, because it is what Jesus walked. The only way anyone can live in peace is if they are prepared to forgive. That is what Jesus means today. He is asking us to unlearn our old, destructive way and embrace an attitude that will bring peace. It seems superhuman sometimes – because we have been so attuned to an old way of striking back. But with God’s grace, which Jesus gives us, we possess a Force to be people of forgiveness. Can we try that?
“Do, or do not. There is no try!”