The Restorative Mission of Forgiveness

The post-resurrection encounters that the Risen Jesus had with his disciples (John 20-21) provide for us a template of restorative practices to adopt for our own lives as we live in a world full of relationships that disappoint us.

The first restorative practice is to understand that Christ’s commission to His followers is an invitation to embrace a lifestyle of forgiveness.  According to John 20.19-23, Jesus appears to ten of his disciples and gives them a commission to continue His ministry.  “If you forgive the sins of anyone, their sins are forgiven…” Jesus says.  Those who identify themselves as Christ-followers commit themselves to a powerful spiritual practice of forgiveness.  The work of forgiveness is our work.

That means we are not powerless when wronged or violated by others.  Restoration is a choice with consequence.  Jesus said if we forgive, sinners are forgiven, but if we do not forgive, they are not forgiven.  Our stance toward the world can be one of hardened skeptic, or forgiving lover.  Jesus empowers us with that choice.  It doesn’t mean that restoration can always occur – sometimes the violation of trust we experience at the hands of another is simply too great.  But, we are not powerless.

The second restorative practice is faith in what is not yet seen.  This is different than “blind faith” – a sort of pie-in-sky wistfulness.  Faith in what is not yet seen lives in confidence that the world as it is will ultimately give way to the world as God intends it to be.  Martin Luther King’s famous adage about the moral arc of history bending inexorably toward justice is grounded in this restorative practice.  The old Christian hymn, “This is my father’s world,” contains the lyrics, “…and tho’ the wrong seems oft’ so strong/God is the Ruler yet…”. Restoration requires from us a confidence that the wrong just occurred is never the last word.  God’s purpose is history is to make all things new…to reconcile…and repair…and redeem all in Creation that has been broken.  This is not blind faith.  It is a commitment to restoration rather than retribution.  Such a commitment is only possible if we see the future through God’s eyes.

The third restorative practice is dialogue in the face of disappointment.  In John 21, Jesus does an extraordinary thing – he sits down with Peter, his former friend and more recently, his public denier. Over a Galilean breakfast of fish and bread, Jesus sits down with Peter.  Jesus has captured Peter’s attention by assisting in an unorthodox process resulting in a massively profitable catch of the day.  This enables Jesus and Peter to have an authentic face-to-face dialogue about what transpired on the night Jesus was betrayed, arrested, denied, and sentenced to death.  It allows Peter to rediscover his own soul, and to live in hope again.

Recently, I sat on the beach by the Sea of Galilee where tradition holds Jesus and Peter met for this conversation.  There is a Franciscan chapel on the shore, where for centuries, Christians and people of good will have come, seeking the strength to dialogue and receiving the strength to restore.  It is a holy space in a sea of religious commodification.

A mission of forgiveness, a faith in what is not yet seen, a capacity to dialogue in the face of disappointment…these are the restorative practices that inject peace into our lives and hope into communities, and justice into the world.

Jeff Wright

Posted by Debbie Wright