I don’t know about you, but I occasionally get hung up on that part of the Lord’s Prayer that encourages us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Forgiveness is hard even for a chaplain, but I can’t begin to conceive what it would be like for someone like Amon Goeth, the fictional character in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 movie, “Schindler’s List.”
Even if you haven’t watched the movie, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine the sadistic and ruthless role of a death camp commandant like Amon Goeth. In a poignant yet preposterous scene, Commandant Goeth randomly sights Jewish prisoners through his rifle scope and kills them for the tiniest infraction in their daily chores.
Schindler saw this sadistic practice as Goeth’s quest for power. To slow the killing, 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!’ ”
Goeth thinks about it for a few days. Then, he suddenly appears amid his terrified captives offering this haphazard pronouncement: “I forgive you. Ah, yes, I forgive you.”
Of course, the absurdity of the scene 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. Schindler knew that “I forgive you” is easily the most powerful pronouncement on the planet.
If you don’t believe me, check out the biblical story in Mark 2 where some friends of a paralyzed man bring him to a home where Jesus is speaking.
At first, the crowds prove impenetrable. But his determined friends raise the paralytic onto the roof of the home, punch a hole and then lower the suffering soul into the middle of the crowd surrounding Jesus.
Impressed by the bold belief of the friends, Jesus gives a startling response to the paralytic. “Friend, I forgive your sins.”
The religious leaders found Jesus’ proclamation as preposterous as moviegoers probably 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 challenges his detractors by posing a comparison. “Which is simpler: To say ‘I forgive your sins,’ or to say ‘Get up and start walking’?” The syntax of his question implies the answer he expected: forgiveness is much harder.
For a time, pseudo-forgiveness came easy to the Nazi commandant. He delighted himself in his new power to forgive. However, his satisfaction was short-lived because he was only using forgiveness to manipulate people for his amusement.
We’ve all met this type of person. They don’t use a gun like Goeth did, but they manipulate us by creating a sense of indebtedness to them. They forgive us only so they can get what they need.
The forgiveness offered by Jesus bestowed the power to heal and to restore all who were involved, not just the forgiver.
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: “They rubbed their eyes, incredulous — and then praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”
Such is the power of genuine forgiveness. Try it.
Excerpt from Norris’ upcoming book, “Thriving, Not Just Surviving.”
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “Hero’s Highway.” You may send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit thechaplain.net.