Donna Rietschlin: On symbols of forgiveness

Today I’d like to speak about symbols and how they might help us remember to forgive readily and how that way of being helps us experience God’s love.

Let’s begin our time together with a brief overview of today’s readings. In the first reading, Jeremiah is called by God, consecrated, and appointed as prophet to the nations. There are some verses of Jeremiah omitted in what we read today in which Jeremiah tells God that he doesn’t know how to speak, he is only a boy. God tells Jeremiah that He is with Jeremiah with a bit of “do it or else” thrown in.

The second reading is very familiar; we often hear parts of it at weddings. Paul tells us that love is the greatest gift. Love is active, not passive or complacent.

The Gospel reading is taken from Luke. This follows last Sunday’s gospel reading when Jesus was handed the scroll of Isiah and began to read in the temple. Now he preaches. In this hometown, Nazareth, where everyone thinks they know him. And the men in the synagogue dare him to do what people said he did in other places. They want him to perform a miracle. Jesus doesn’t perform miracles for them to prove who he is. He reminds them that Elijah helped a widow living in a Phoenician city and Elisha, the prophet who came after Elijah, didn’t heal lepers in Israel but healed Naaman, the commander of the army of Aram.
Jesus is saying that God cares for all people, all are Beloved.

This made the men listening to him really, really angry. Luke writes “all in the synagogue were filled with rage”. They drove Jesus out of town and wanted to “hurl him off a cliff”.

These readings really made me think about forgiveness. About what makes me angry. I am called to love; how do I live that? It seems that the only way to love others is to forgive – to forgive ourselves, one another and to have the humility to receive forgiveness.

I’m part of a community that has been discovering and reflecting on forgiveness recently. Members of the community, like here at St Joe’s, come from many nations. We are men and women with and without identified disabilities choosing to live together and create bonds of belonging and respect. We’ve been talking a lot about forgiveness recently. We’ve used jellybeans to help our reflection. Jesus told us to forgive 70 X 7 times; to symbolize this, many of us put 7 small items into a jar. Many of us used jellybeans. One person who plays guitar used guitar picks. Another person used small stones.

Let me share one of the stories that emerged as we spoke about forgiveness. Let me introduce Nancy, a woman who lives with incredibly high levels of anxiety and a deep desire to share her life with others. She is very open about what she experiences and teaches many of us a lot about life and tenderness, love and forgiveness.
Nancy recounted this story. Before Covid struck, she took a taxi across town to her work every day and took another taxi home each afternoon. She really appreciated the time in the taxi with no other passengers. It gave her time to relax and, at the end of her workday, to reset after a day of many people and many expectations. One afternoon a friend was also waiting for a ride home. When Nancy’s taxi pulled up, the friend said, “Since we live close to one another, could we share this taxi?” Nancy recounts how she blew up at her friend. She didn’t want to share the taxi. She wanted some alone time and for things to be the way they typically are as she travels home each afternoon.

The friend immediately apologized to Nancy for this request. Nancy, in the midst of her upset, said “I forgive you”. Nancy got in the waiting taxi and headed home. She arrived home unruffled and ready for her afternoon tea.

Jesus wasn’t doing what the men in the synagogue wanted him to do. The prophets Elijah and Elisha didn’t do what the people wanted them to do. Jeremiah didn’t give messages the people wanted to hear. Nancy didn’t do what her friend wanted her to do.
Jesus and the prophets called the people to the truth that God loves all people. Nancy, being exquisitely herself, was able to forgive her friend immediately and to do what was good for her wellbeing.

How do we live with people who say and do things that we disagree with? Are we able to remain respectful towards that person or group, curious about how they come to think that way? Are we able to see the light of Christ in a difficult person or group? I’m not suggesting we condone harmful behavior or aggression. Can we see the person or persons involved as the body of Christ, as beloved of God?

God loves each of us and all of creation. Can we remain respectful of one another and creation? Curious? Are there simple symbols of God’s love that can help us? For me, gardening helps. In the winter, some of the plants come indoors so our relationship continues. Each plant is unique and has different needs. They remind me that each person is unique and needs different things to thrive.

For the past week, a jar of multicolored jellybeans sitting on our kitchen table has been the symbol that called me to reflect on love and forgiveness repeatedly. It reminds me of stories shared about forgiveness and stories shared about love. It reminds me that God forgives me over and over again. A few times this past week when something irked me, seeing that jar of jellybeans sitting on the table reminded me that I’m invited to forgive, to love and that each person is beloved of God, especially the person that I’m struggling with.
Is there a symbol that might be helpful in your journey of forgiveness? What symbol touches you as you think about loving and respecting others and all of creation?

Donna Rietschlin

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