“Be the church.” “Forgive often.” Peter asked Jesus just how often we have to forgive. “Lord,” he asked him, “if a brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
So two stories of forgiveness for this Palm Passion Sunday. One is about 6-year-old Ruby Bridges, as told in a recent editorial in The Christian Century–
Fifty-six years have passed since six-year-old Ruby Bridges walked into William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. Ruby was black; the other students were white. Her walk into that school, surrounded by federal marshals (later immortalized in Norman Rockwell’s painting “The Problem We All Live With”), signaled a major development in desegregation. Before her first day of first grade had ended, parents had emptied the school of white children in a massive boycott. Ruby learned alone that year, taught by the one teacher willing to remain.
Huge crowds of protesters gathered daily outside the school to shout slurs and death threats at Ruby. Film clips from the day are hauntingly difficult to watch. Throngs of angry whites waved Confederate flags, and some even shove before Ruby an open child’s casket with a black doll inside. These expressions of public hatred remind us how unrestrained fear can quickly spiral into mob mentality.
When psychiatrist Robert Coles was studying children in the desegregating South in the ‘60’s, he took a personal interest in Ruby. Her display of strength, stoicism, and bright cheer in the midst of a daily hell caught his attention and puzzled him. He began to meet with her every week.
One day Ruby’s teacher told Coles that she had noticed Ruby moving her lips as she was walking into school. So Coles asked her, “Who were you talking to, Ruby?” “I was talking to God and praying for the people in the street,” she said. “Why were you doing that, Ruby?” “Well, because I wanted to pray for them. Don’t you think they need praying for?” Coles responded affirmatively but pushed further. “Where did you learn that?” “From my mommy and daddy and from the minister at church. I pray every morning [when I come to school] and every afternoon when I go home.” Coles continued, “But Ruby, those people are so mean to you. You must have some other feelings besides just wanting to pray for them.” “No,” she said, “I just keep praying for them and hope God will be good to them…I always pray the same thing. “Please, dear God, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.’” [Peter Marty, The Christian Century, March 29, 2017, p. 3]
The other story, as you might have guessed, is from the events we observe at the end of this week.
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.
Be the church. Forgive often. Who is it you need to forgive, maybe for the first time, maybe for the seventh time, maybe the umpteenth time? Is it yourself? It doesn’t mean they didn’t harm you. It doesn’t mean they didn’t crucify you even. It just means that to be the church, to be the Body of Christ, we must forgive often. Forgiving often opens us up to be filled with God, keeps the bitterness from poisoning us; forgiving often leaves the vengeance and judgment and healing up to God. “Please, dear God, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.” “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Be the church. Forgive often.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark