Then Peter approaching asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’ (Matthew 18: 21-22.)
I watched an incredibly moving video recently. It made such an enormous impression on me that I have replayed it many times. A young American man, Brandt Jean, took the witness stand and spoke in court after the sentencing of a former Dallas policewoman, Amber Guyger, who shot and killed Brandt’s brother, Botham, when she mistakenly went in to his apartment, thinking it was her own.
In an astonishing act of love and kindness, Brandt turned to Guyger and said to her: ‘I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you. I love you just like anyone else and I am not going to hope you rot and die. I personally want the best for you. I wasn’t going to say this in front of my family, but I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want for you. Give your life to Christ. I think giving your life to Christ is the best thing Botham would want for you.’
Incredibly, he then asked the judge for leave to give the prisoner a hug. Brandt stepped down from the witness stand, a guard brought Guyger over and Brandt embraced her for several minutes before she was taken away to start her 10-year sentence with the possibility of parole in five years.
Emotions ran high in the courtroom and even the judge could be seen weeping into her handkerchief. To watch this young man, in the name of Jesus, forgive the person who had killed his brother, and then tell the killer that he loved her, was astounding. How many of us, in similar circumstances, would be able to do the same? I would like to think that I could, but I doubt it.
If we can’t forgive small things, how on earth can we expect to forgive the more important matters? We are reminded when we pray the ‘Our Father’ that forgiving is what we should be doing. How often do we forget that in the same beautiful prayer, we have asked God to ‘forgive us our trespasses’? And yet we still fail to afford the same courtesy to others?
Hanging on to the pain of the past is never helpful and merely stokes the flames of yesterday’s hurt and deprives us of the joy and peace of the present. Licking our old wounds serves only to re-open them. Forgiving someone when they have deliberately hurt us doesn’t mean that what they did wasn’t terribly wrong, but it means that we do not allow it to carry on hurting us.
Not forgiving and not being forgiven produces negativity and discord, saps our energy, clouds our thinking, destroys our freedom and prevents our healing. An absence of forgiveness is the foundation for acts of reciprocal violence and revenge. Reconciliation is the only pathway to peace, harmony and acceptance.
Almighty God is never outdone in generosity, and, even when we try to forgive – yet fail – He sees, helps and rewards our efforts. Jesus was surely made visible through Brandt’s powerful testimony of love and the words he spoke have now echoed around the world. We may think that we could never react like Brandt, but he has certainly showed us what is possible. It was forgiveness at its very best.