We often study the topic of forgiveness in my classes. Often, I have the students read this entry and write essays on the following case. Forgiveness is often difficult, occasionally confounding, and sometimes messy as you will read below, from May 7, 2007.
As we find the days of the school year dwindling to a dozen, I've had to make some decisions on what to discuss in my sophomore Bible class. There is not enough time in two semesters to cover the four Gospels in depth. We read practically all of the accounts for quizzes so the kids are at least acquainted with most of the major incidents in the the life of Christ. Today, we began focusing on two of the great stories of forgiveness, the woman caught in adultery and the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We watched video clips from Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew featuring those two scenes before we began taking notes on John 8, the throw the first stone if you are without sin chapter. As an intro to the lesson, I mentioned two news items I saw today. One was the forty-five day jail sentence Paris Hilton was slapped with for violating her probation in conjunction with a drunk driving charge. (Guess what I found out when I googled the hotel heiress? Her paternal grandmother's maiden name was.......Hawley! I may have to rethink my feelings for Paris now that we may share some long distant gene pool!)
The other current event was less broadcast but far more sobering. A twice convicted child molester has asked to become a member of a California church. The request has predictably split the congregation. The balance between the Biblical command to forgive- and some Bible characters had pretty despicable sins in their resume'- and the responsibility for the safety of the vulnerable seems to be a delicate one. Almost all of the students expressed the belief that the commandment to forgive was not overridden by the moral outrage of what this sexual offender had perpetrated on the most innocent victims. All agreed that the man should at least be monitored closely for his own good as well as that of the children. I suggested that normal protocol would probably be suspended. Many churches have member directories with addresses, phone numbers, and pictures of the flock. Wouldn't you deny the possession of such common information from the prospective member? Can you be a provisional Christian? Many of the kids were obviously perplexed. The effusive Brianna, never at a loss for words, surmised, "I'm at a loss." I stressed that forgiveness, and the practical application of Jesus' teaching, might be messy and contradictory at times to our mindset. After the child molester, the adulterous woman seems tame. When her accusers left her alone with the Master, he sent her away with the assurance that he did not condemn her and one additional proviso:
"Go now and leave your life of sin."
No one perceives that woman to have been a threat to the welfare of society. On the other hand, not one student spoke up today in defense of the lovely Paris Hilton. We tend to think she is finally getting what she deserves for her arrogance and sense of entitlement. It was easier when it was Jesus' decision. He didn't have to deal with Entertainment Tonight. Forgiveness was a commandment, not a celebrity headline. As Christians, we don't seem to wrestle much with issues that seem beneath our sense of repulsion, maybe because we don't reach out to those society despises. Jesus did not shy away from sinners, either the most notorious kind or the run-of-the-mill variety like you and me.....and my students. If he did, he'd be a shepherd without a flock.
Applicable quote of the day:
"Most of us can forgive and forget; we just don't want the other person to forget that we forgave."
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