Last week I wrote about the Lord’s Prayer and encouraged its use as a prayer that can inspire all faiths.
The column inspired a question from FLORIDA TODAY reader Jean Starkey.
“In your column about the Lord’s Prayer . . . you discuss the line: ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ You explain it as being ‘a reminder of the power we carry to forgive one another. It’s a reminder to use this power responsibly.’
“Please explain,” Starkey asks, “what you mean by that last sentence of using the power responsibly.”
My answer to her questions came in the form of a contrast between a Biblical scene and a well-known cinematic scene.
If you watched Steven Spielberg’s 1993 movie, “Schindler’s List,” it won’t be hard to remember the sadistic and ruthless death camp commandant, Amon Goeth. In a poignant yet ludicrous scene, Commandant Goeth randomly sighted Jewish prisoners through his rifle scope and killed them for the tiniest infraction in their daily chores.
To stop this sadistic quest for power, Oskar Schindler conned Goeth into trying a different path to power.
“You can be such a big man,” he coaxed, “by forgiving these foolish Jews for their mistakes. Instead of shooting them, say ‘I forgive you.’ You are the great Amon Goeth! What Aryan nobility you could show!’ ” And for the next few days, this crazed man goes about haphazardly pronouncing: “I forgive you. Ah, yes, I forgive you.”
Of course, what makes the scene ludicrous is that Goeth lacks the spiritual power to either condemn or forgive. Nevertheless, Schindler’s point is profound — the power to forgive is ultimate power.
Contrast this story to the Biblical story of a paralyzed man whose friends attempt to take him to Jesus to be healed.
At first, the crowds prove impenetrable. But his determined friends raise the paralytic to a rooftop where they lower him into the middle of the crowd surrounding Jesus.
Impressed by the bold belief of the friends, Jesus says a startling thing to the paralytic. “Friend, I forgive your sins.”
The religious leaders found Jesus’ pronouncement as ludicrous as moviegoers found Goeth’s statement. They ask the crowd, “Who does he (Jesus) think he is? That’s blasphemous talk! God, and only God, can forgive sins.”
Jesus’ response was to ask them, “Which is simpler: to say ‘I forgive your sins,’ or to say ‘Get up and start walking’?” The syntax of the question implies the answer — forgiveness is much harder.
Back to Jean’s question: “Please explain what you mean by that last sentence of using the power responsibly.”
Obviously, the Nazi commandant used the power of forgiveness irresponsibly. He used the power to increase his own importance and to create an obligation or a sense of indebtedness.
There are times when we all do this. Of course we don’t use a gun. We use money or security or love to create indebtedness to ourselves. We forgive only so we can get what we need. That is the irresponsible use of forgiveness.
The forgiveness Jesus portrayed was a forgiveness that bestowed the power to heal and to restore.
How did the story end? I like the way The Message puts it — “Just so it’s clear that I’m . . . authorized to do either . . .” He spoke directly to the paraplegic: “Get up. Take your bedroll and go home.” Without a moment’s hesitation, he did it.
Then the passage says: “The people rubbed their eyes, incredulous. . . . Awestruck, they said, “We’ve never seen anything like that!”
Such is the power of genuine forgiveness.