Reflection for the fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
Jesus, in St Matthew 18:21-35: “Forgive your brother from your heart.”
Guardian to recycler: “Do you take the hard plastic cases from cassette tapes?”
Youngish recycler: “I’m sorry, my dear, I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
As one who, at the time, found it challenging this week to put into practice the words of Jesus due to being both patronised and treated like a dinosaur in an encounter with the generation gap, forgiveness is not easy!
One person who showed forgiveness in a quite remarkable way was Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch watchmaker who, with her family, took into their home and hid Jews being persecuted during the Second World War. In February 1944, an informant betrayed them and all ten family members were arrested – though not the six Jews and resistance workers who had been successfully hidden behind a false wall. In prison, where she was held in solitary confinement for three months, Corrie received a letter saying, “All the watches in your cabinet are safe” and so knew that all had escaped. She and her sister Betsie ended up in Ravensbrück concentration camp where Betsie died just fifteen days before Corrie was released on 16th December. Later, she was told that a clerical error had brought her freedom and all the women in Corrie’s age group (52) were sent to the gas chambers a week afterwards. What if she had not survived, like so many others?
After the war, Corrie set up a rehabilitation centre in Holland for survivors of the Holocaust and Dutch collaborators, returning to Germany in 1946 where she met and forgave two workers at Ravensbrück, one of whom had been particularly cruel to Betsie. She who had every reason to hate was able, due to her lively faith, whole-heartedly to live out Jesus’ guidance to forgive – even in such heart-rending circumstances. Corrie wrote many books about her experiences and, in doing so, liberated others to be freed by forgiveness too.
I first experienced the power of these following words of hers when I was a prison chaplain. One man wept with hatred of his father, not wanting to forgive him for the abuse experienced in his childhood and saying that he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to to show his own future children love if he hadn’t known it himself. Eventually, in being willing to at least explore those feelings, he was able to realise that his father had been abused himself, to forgive him and to begin to overcome the hurt. That cycle of abuse was broken by time, will and courage – I often think of him and hope that he did find love in the end. So many don’t.
With such mixed emotions being created and great suffering being experienced due to the ongoing pandemic today, the words and actions of Corrie ten Boom, based on the example of Jesus, are still relevant:
“Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”
May it be so – and may we find the will for it to be so.
With my prayers,