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Life, Love and Law

Life, Love and Law: Chapter 6



1. Judgment and forgiveness

I started Chapter 2 by examining excerpts from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The text of Luke which I then examined continues with the following verse: «Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven».1 What can be made of this? What does this text actually say?

The first thing to do is to check the operative verbs found in this verse. The Greek verb translated by «judge» is «krinete» (κρινετε). It means «separate», «sort out», «distinguish», «decide», «accuse», «judge», «condemn», «bring to judgement». The Greek term «katadikazete» (καταδικαζετε) translated by «condemn» means: «pronounce judgement against», «condemn». The two verbs which define what we are not to do are very similar: they both imply a condemnation.

So what Jesus (God Incarnate, the Voice of the Father) says in the first part of this verse is: we are not to find anyone guilty of anything. Why? Because if so, Jesus says, we will also not be found guilty.

The second part of the verse uses the verb translated by «forgive». The Greek word is «apoluete» (απολυετε) which means «untie», «unbind», and so: «absolve someone of an accusation». That the meaning «forgive» comes from the verb «untie», «unbind» is crucial to understand what it is really about. Intricate philosophical and psychological analyses have been done on what it means to «forgive» and, in my personal opinion, these have no relevance whatsoever with what Jesus is talking about.

Philosophy in the ancient world was reserved to the very few; and they never turned up with such intricate notions as philosophers have today. Let us see what popular terms are used about the process where forgiveness takes place.

The process is as follows: he does something to her; she wants reparation or revenge. She considers that the one who did this to her «owes» her something: either he «pays» it by reparation or he faces revenge from her so that she can equal the score. He has contracted a debt towards her by doing something to her.

If she forgives him, she forgives this debt of his, gives up any claim on him: he owes her nothing. He is free of any revenge or demand on her part. This process of forgiveness requires only a decision from the injured party.

The injuring party can either refuse to accept responsibility for the injury or feel totally justified in his action. That does not matter. If he does not recognize his debt and neither does she, there is no problem. If the injuring party refuses to accept the forgiveness while accepting the blame, again there is no problem. His debt is cancelled as far as she is concerned. If the other party is ready to make reparation, she can accept it as a gift with thanks. That pleases everybody.

So what Jesus (again, the Voice of God Father) is saying is: if you cancel the debts owed to you, your debts will be cancelled. You owe nothing to anyone if you cancel what every one owes you.

This is said again in slightly different form. When in Matthew Jesus tells His disciplines how to pray, He includes «And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.»2 The Greek word «aphète» (αφητε) translated as «forgive» means «let go», «loosen», «abandon» and the word translated by «debt» can also be translated by «obligation».

Jesus quickly reinforces this by «For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.»3 Again the word translated by «forgive» is «let go»; the word translated by «trespasses» has as its first meaning «defeat», «set back» and as its second « error», «mistake». (Translated by such terms, this passage sounds much less moralistic.)

So it is clearly stated that it is God as Father who cancels her debts if she cancels the debts people owe her.

2. The Parable of the unforgiving servant

Jesus comes back to this theme, though in a different way, in the following parable about the Kingdom of Heaven that I will divide in three different tableaux:

Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.4

This parable makes it quite clear that the debt a human is owed by her fellow human is very small compared with the debt that she owes to God but that if she forgives completely («from your hearts») the debt she is owed, God will forgive completely the enormous debt she owes Him.

As she was indebted to God for an enormous sum, she was not able to pay and had to face the consequences and lose everything - that is the judgement according to our world order: you pay your debts or else.

She begs for time to repay what she could not as she is desperate; not only does He first let her go instead of keeping her prisoner, He then cancels her debt out of compassion. This is the way of the Kingdom of Heaven, of God's way of life.

The Greek word translated by «compassion» here is «spalagchnistheis» (σπαλαγχνισθεις) which means in its passive form «have one's entrails moved», «be moved», «be touched» in a very physical way. God is so strongly moved with pity that He looses her (the Greek verb used here is «apolusen» (απολσειν) which is translated by «forgive» elsewhere though its original meaning is «loose») and the debt that was owed Him is also let go (translated by «forgive» while the Greek term is «aphèken» (αφηκεν) which means «let go» as we also have seen.)

It is after this cancellation of her huge debt by God that she demands immediate repayment of the small debt owed her by a fellow human. This has terrible consequences. The Lord considers that just as He cancels her debt, she must cancel the one of her fellowservant. She must take example on Him. If she wants to be in the Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom where God forgives His humans as is His way of Life, she needs to do likewise. If she insists on being repaid, on acting according to our world order, so be it. But then she forfeits the Kingdom. She is in the world she has chosen: this world order. So she has to face the consequences of that world: «And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.»5

God acts out of His compassion because of Who He Is. This is God's order, God's Kingdom. But we can insist on living according to our human order, the one where repayment is necessary. In this order, in this way of living, in this world, God cannot be the God who loves and so forgives but has to be the God who insists on each one paying his/her failings to the full. We then make God into our own image. We cannot accept Him for Who He Is. We cannot accept that He can actually forgive us: it is impossible for us to even consider this as we insist on justice and the right of vengeance.

3. The beam in the human judge's eye

There is another very useful text on this subject in Matthew:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.6

The excerpt starts in the same way as the one we saw earlier in this Chapter; and again we are told what we will end up being judged on the same terms we judge others. But then Jesus goes further on this theme. Judging here means correcting people: taking the speck out of her eye. It is ostensibly to help her that one is correcting her. But not so, according to Jesus. Because the simple act of judging the behaviour of the other (finding that speck in her eye) means that you have a beam in yours.

This need to judge others is a huge impediment to doing so correctly. (How can you take that speck out if your vision is affected by a beam?) Which translated means that if your judgement is according to this world's order (that beam in your eye), it is impossible for you to do a good job at judging as your set of values is wrong. You pretend to be virtuous but are a hypocrite if you judge others, if you find them faults. If you are sincere, honest, you will concentrate on your faults and failings: there is enough there to keep you busy.

4. The Pharisee and the Publican

Jesus gave a rather stark example of what He meant. He examined the prayer of a just, honest, God-fearing man thanking God for his good behaviour and comparing himself to a poor wretch who has sinned much, knows it and asks God for forgiveness:

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.7

This Pharisee was really a good man. He was a pillar of his society. He gave to the poor, fasted and kept the commandments. He did not sleep around and steal but was just and honest. He was like good, God-fearing Christians. He even thanked God for it just like they do! It is not at all obvious what is wrong with his prayer. As I just pointed out, many Christians pray like that, feeling smug about their progress in the spiritual and the moral life. They have good reasons to compare themselves advantageously to the dregs of our society.

For Jesus, the problem is that the Pharisee is comparing himself to somebody else with whom he is finding faults: he is finding the speck in his neighbour's eye. We saw what Jesus thinks of such a way of doing. It is the way of doing of this world's order, where judgment is paramount and the prisons, full. A world order of comparisons and judgements.

Jesus sees the Pharisee's prayer as worthless because it is founded on this world's order. Basically, the Pharisee's prayer is like a presentation given to a superior by an employee bragging about her performance. Jesus sees the Publican's prayer as efficacious because he recognized his sinfulness and begged for mercy. This is why God acquitted him of all his wrongdoings. He assumed that God would be merciful to him, that He cared for him enough to listen to him and grant him his request. He believed in the existence of God's way of life, of God's Kingdom of forgiveness.

This parable ends by: «for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.» The Pharisee thought of himself as good while the Publican thought of himself as bad. In the afterlife, the Pharisee will be made aware that God does not consider him such a success and the Publican, that God does not consider him such a failure. That awareness will come when they both find that God loves them equally, that He has no favourite. The Pharisee will have a huge problem in accepting the fact that God loves the Publican as much as He loves him while the Publican will have no problem in accepting that God loves the Pharisee as much as him. So the Pharisee will be scandalized and will condemn God (which is Hell) while the Publican will rejoice in God's love (which is Heaven). For the Publican, God is the One who loves and so forgives; for the Pharisee, God is a God of Justice Who must consider him better than the sinner.

5. Forgiving sins rather than condemning

While on earth, Jesus was made to judge an adultureous woman who according to the Law of Moses had to be stoned to death.8 He should have pronounced this sentence on her as provided for by the Law because she was guilty of adultery having been caught during intercourse with a man other than her husband. After all, there were enough trustworthy witnesses to vouch for the fact that the man they caught copulating with her was not her husband. Not only did He not, but He put it in such a way that no one else could : «He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her».9

After they all left, and Jesus «saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.»10 Jesus does not pass judgement. And Jesus is the Word, that is, God. Nowhere in the Gospels does He do so. If Jesus does not judge, it is that God does not. He does tell her to change her ways: He is not blind to what she did but He does not condemn.

In many cases, Jesus does more than not condemn, He actually acquits in the sense that He remits debts (forgives sins). A magnificent case in point is the following story of Jesus' supper at a Pharisee's house being intruded by a woman well known in that town as a sinner:

And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.

And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.

And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.

Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.11

I have cut the story in four parts. In the first part we have this woman who comes in and cries copious tears over Jesus' feet. She is obviously there as a supplicant. She abases herself publicly by being at His feet and covering them with tears. She dries them with her hair: she uses the part of her which is normally standing tall to be in contact with what is in contact with the dirt found on the streets; she clearly states that He is well above her. She kisses His feet with ardour. All this must have been sensual if not sexually charged. This woman is submitting herself to Him.

She definitely wants something from Him. She pours ointment on His feet and massages them. She stays at His feet. She says nothing. It is as if all she wants is to touch Him, to be with Him, right at His feet, like a dog. The host is shocked: Jesus is letting Himself be touched by an impure woman! Surely He should know who she is if He is a Prophet?

In the second part, Jesus aswers His host's objection by a story. Someone forgives two people their unequal debts. Who of these two will thank him the most? will it not be the one who was forgiven more?

In the third part, Jesus points out that the woman has acted towards Him in a more loving fashion than His host the Pharisee. As Jesus' story suggested that the difference in loving is the consequence of the different amounts forgiven, we have to conclude that God had already forgiven her, and forgiven her more than He forgave the Pharisee.

To make this clear, Jesus, as God the Word, tells her in the last part that indeed her sins are forgiven, that God has answered her prayer, has forgiven her debt. He provides the assurance she needs that God has forgiven her many sins, that He loves her. Jesus states clearly that the proof of God's forgiveness is in her love for Him. That she believed that God could and would forgive her is made clear by Jesus who tells her :«Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.»

As she had confidence in God's love and mercy, that confidence was actualized. She accepted God for Who He really Is: a supremely loving Being who does not condemn but generously forgives all sins. All Jesus did was to state what had happened. In a way, one could say that Jesus did not forgive her: God as Father did. Jesus only stated what should have been obvious to all. (But of course He and the Father are one!) Of course, for the bystanders, it was Jesus who forgave her her sins; but this is not what Jesus said. He did not say «I forgive...» but «thy sins are forgiven».

So getting forgiveness from God is exceedingly easy (it seems): all one has to do is to believe that God is Who He Is, the One Who forgives. Of course, the consequence of this is that one starts to act like God, as His child, by showing love and forgiveness to others.

There is another example where Jesus «forgives» sin. It is found in the Gospels of Mark12 and Luke13 as well as Matthew. With great difficulty, a paralytic is brought to Jesus on a stretcher. The paralytic and the people who brought him there did not get through all this trouble without a real hope that Jesus would cure him. They had faith:

And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house.14

Instead of curing the sick man, Jesus tells him out of the blue that his sins are forgiven!15 Why should He say such a thing? One could reply that He wants to make the point that He has the power to forgive sin. This would work in the following way: to cure that man requires God's favour; you do not have God's favour if you blaspheme, so He cannot have blasphemed as He actually cured the sick man. If He did not blaspheme, He told the truth.

I must agree with this analysis. Jesus states categorically «but you may know that the Son of Man has the power (freedom, faculty) on the earth to let go sins...» But to me it begs the question. He could have forgiven anyone of the by-standers and «proved» His truthfulness by curing the paralytic. The above argument does not require that Jesus forgive the sin of that particular man. One can reply that Jesus wants to show that just has He can cure people of physical infirmities, He can cure them of «spiritual» ones, their sins. I again agree but still think there is more to this story. I have suggested that God loves everyone equally and forgives all.

This does not seem to go well with the fact that Jesus is recorded to have forgiven sins in only the two cases examined here. So let me look at the whole incident from a different angle, which in no way contradicts what has been said so far.

For me, the important words are «Jesus seeing their faith». It is because of this that Jesus can announce that the man's sins are forgiven. He and his friends trusted in God's mercy and this trust is always realized. Again, what Jesus does is state the obvious, God's infinite forgiveness.

Now He also knows that His statement cannot be verified. To prove it, He shows God's mercy by curing the man of his infirmity, something for all to see. God makes explicit the fact that this man's sins have been forgiven because he believed, through faith. Belief in what? In God's saving power, in God's love and compassion for him. So Jesus as God's Voice, as God's Hand, cures him both of his physical infirmities and his sins.

6. Conclusion

What Jesus said about judgment and forgiveness can be understood in terms of my interpretation of Who God Is and what Heaven and Hell are. To be forgiven, all one must do is believe that God is a God who, as Love, forgives. But she who really believes this will love God in return and will feel compelled to act as He does and so forgive. The ones who cannot forgive do not believe in the Kingdom but in a world of justice. They cannot accept (believe) that God loves them as sinners. If they cannot accept His forgiveness, they cannot accept that He Is Who He Is. They will also rage against His forgiveness of others; they will rage against Him taking «sides» against them, as they will insist that there be «sides» in which they will force Him into. They will judge God and find Him in the wrong, just like the Devil does. And so being in His presence will be Hell instead of Heaven.

We have started this Chapter by this saying of Jesus: «Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.». It states that what will happen to us will mirror how we acted towards others. It says that we will be «judged» by our standards. This is easy to understand if the human fully expects to be judged by a God Whose standards are hers, a God in her own image. It is also easy to understand if the human accepts and tries to live by God's standards as defined by Jesus because she will be «judged» by that God Whose standards she is trying incarnate, that God revealed by His Word, our Lord Jesus. The first human will be reacting to an illusion while the second will be reacting to the Truth that God is Love.

1 Luke 6:37

2 Matthew 6:12

3 Matthew 6:14-5

4 Matthew 18:23-35

5 Matthew 18:34

6 Matt 7:3-5

7 Luke 18:10-14

8 John 8:3-11

9 John 8:7

10 John 8:10-11

11 Luke 7:37-50

12 Mark 2:3-12

13 Luke 5:18-25

14 Matthew 9:2-7

15 The exact sentence in the KJV is «thy sins be forgiven thee» except in Luke where it is «thy sins are forgiven thee» (Luke 5:20). The exact translation from the Greek should be «have been forgiven you the sins of you» which does not state who forgave his sins but just that they have been.

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Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, June 6th, 2004

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