The lesson of the withered fig tree is one of my "top 5 things I wish Jesus had never done or said." I mean really, "ask, believe, and it will happen," that makes my job as a pastor very, very difficult. What happens when prayers go unanswered? Did I not believe? Did I not pray hard enough? Did Jesus sell me a bridge to nowhere? These are tough questions that hit at the heart of one of the mainstays of Christianity, intercessory prayer. I'll go ahead and admit it here, I struggle with intercessory prayer. What, exactly, should I be praying for?
- God's will to be done?
- The peace that surpasses all understanding?
- Billy to be healed?
- Sally to get that job?
- Mikey's house to sell?
Where does the line get drawn? And if God is all powerful, all knowing, and never-changing, then what difference do my prayers make anyway? In my mind, point three above seems to be a tipping point. God's will and God's peace are always freely given. Healing sometimes happens only after death. But jobs and houses and other things of this world, well sometimes, I think, we expect a little too much from the God of All Creation. All of this doesn't mean that I don't pray for and with people, I do, and I fervently believe in the power of prayer, I just don't understand it - kind of like I don't understand the Eucharist or the Atonement. I'd love someone to sit down with me to share the tradition behind intercessory prayer someday, but, as the title above suggests, this wasn't supposed to be a post about intercessory prayer, it is supposed to be about forgiveness.
"If you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."
Some manuscripts have a phantom verse 26 that says, "But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your transgressions." That, my friends, is tough stuff from Jesus. Being a good Protestant, I'm all about grace and works flowing therefrom. I'm of the "forgiven to forgive" school of thought, but here Jesus seems very clear that sometimes it works the other way. I can't know God's forgiveness until I forgive my grudges. Here, like yesterday, I think Jesus speaks from a very human experience. He's been red-hot with anger at the system of oppression that has defiled God's holy Temple. His grudge is righteous and yet, he can fell within himself a change. Anger brings contempt and contempt is not from God, forgiveness is from God.
It will take him three more days to reach a point where he can forgive. He'll beg for a different way, he'll be tempted to take up arms, but in the end, as he hangs on the cross he'll call up to the Father and say, "forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." As he forgives, so is he forgiven, and with him, the whole world finds forgiveness and redemption. Am I forgiven today, I hope so, but first, let me forgive another.