Forgive Them For They Know Not…

In my last post, You Won’t Like Me When I’m Angry, I said that in my opinion the greatest miracle Jesus ever did was stay on the cross.  Well, if that was the greatest, the second was to pray for the people who were cheering to see him there.  Imagine that you have been betrayed.  It could be something simple like one of your friends told you that they couldn’t hang out and then you run into them in public with someone else.  How would you feel?  I know most of us would have hurt feelings.  We would get upset to some degree and go over in our heads trying to figure out why they would do that.  After pining over it for some time we might find ourselves still unable to connect the dots.  It just doesn’t make sense.  We might think, “What did I do to them?”  Unable to move forward without some type of closure, we will likely react in one of several ways to include:

  1. Think of additional reasons to be angry with them
  2. Make up a story of why they did this that has us playing the victim role
  3. Tell ourselves that the next time they ask us to go out that we will say “no”
  4. Start surveying mutual friends to see if they have ever been a victim of this so called friend’s neglect
  5. Take out our disappointment on the next person that we encounter

Ultimately when we feel slighted we don’t care what the other person’s story is and we sure as heck are not thinking about their well-being.  All we know is that we are hurting and that we want some degree of relief no matter whose expense it is at.

As I said, at the level of consciousness that I am at right now, if I were Jesus I would have jumped off the cross and gone off.  But I hold in my heart his example of how we should respond to slights against us whether they are real and imagined.  With Jesus’ greatest miracle he showed the first prerequisite for being able to live these words he taught in Matthew 5:43-45:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighborand hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

It is difficult for most of us to live these words because most of us are stuck in survival mode.  We have been so programmed by the “What’s in it for me?” mentality that our survival instincts are turned on in instances of the littlest importance.  You can see that very visibly just driving on the interstate.  People don’t want to let other people in.  We act like it is our mission to teach other people a lesson by slowing down or not moving over when we see them speeding up behind us.  It’s all pretty ridiculous and yet most of us live in that mode most of our lives.  Jesus on the cross willingly, contradicts this instinct.  He was selfless or at least he was able to see himself as One with the Whole and so could give himself up for the good of the greater body of humanity.  We cannot do anything like this when we see ourselves as separate from others.  In other words, we have to love them at least as much as we love ourselves.  That’s the key to miracle one.

Miracle two of blessing them and asking that they be forgiven is a branch off of that same tree.  When we see ourselves as one with others we see their hearts a little more clearly.  Being beyond the survival mode, Jesus could see that these people were cursing him out of fear.  Let’s not forget that Jesus was a troublemaker in the eyes of some people.  There were many people who were comfortable with the status quo of that time.  They had found their niche and Jesus’ message threw that off.  On the other end of the spectrum, there were those who wanted radical, even violent, change.  Well, Jesus was saying love your enemies.  So how do you think that went over?

Basically everything Jesus said ran contrary to the survivalist mentality that the majority was and still is living in.  He knew that.  He also knew what it felt like to want to live.  That’s why, in the garden of Gethsemane, he cried to God about the possibility of passing the cup some other way.  He could sympathize with them.  He knew that if they were not operating from that base level of existence then they would not have chosen that he be crucified.  In fact, I think we all know what that is like.  When we give other people good advice that we can’t do ourselves, it is because we can sympathize with them and in that moment we are not thinking about our own survival.  Many of us are capable of recommending forgiveness of others when we aren’t the one that is hurting.  Jesus simply took it to the next evolutionary stage of consciousness.  Being in the world but not of the world, he could look at the crowd from a “beyond” state of mind and say those words, “Father, Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  He could say this because although he was present in the circumstances, he was not limited by the circumstances.

One time I was reciting one of my poems at this back to school event.  I began by saying that we appreciated the school supplies, but I wanted to say something to the kids who were going into this school year with uncertainty and fear.  I mentioned that many young Black males don’t expect to live pass 18 so in addition to school supplies we needed to encourage them to see beyond their present circumstances. The poem started off with me talking about my frustration with the false perceptions among the races and was intended to end with a talk between God and me that resulted in my realization that my mind contributed to those false perceptions as well.  It was kind of like the riot act that God gave Job (see Job 38-42).  But before I got to the end, this Black lady came up to the stage and demanded that I get down.  After she said it a few times, I got down without finishing.  She pulled me to the side and said, “You are going to embarrass us in front of all of these good White people who brought us all of these school supplies and food.”  Her survival instincts were in full effect and in her mind I had to go.

I didn’t bear my cross very well in that moment.  I got up there, but when the lady started going off I got right down.  I don’t blame her now. Nor did I then. But, I did use that experience as an excuse not to get back up there.  Still, I learned a lesson and that is what I am sharing with you in this post.  Once everything calmed down, the lady came up to me and apologized.  She said, “I’m sorry I did that.  I don’t know what came over me.  I heard you saying all this Black and White stuff and I thought about those people who brought the supplies feeling uncomfortable and the next thing you know I was yelling at you.”  I told her it was okay and that I understood and we hugged.  It was pretty special.  The fact was that I too was nervous that I would make the people feel uncomfortable, but had decided to say it anyway.  In the end, I finished the poem to a group of about 6 college students who wanted to know how it ended.  Maybe the poem was just for them.  At least that’s what I tell myself. Ironically, they were all identified as White.

Anyway, that lady taught me the meaning of FFTFTKNWTD.  When she told me that she didn’t know what came over her, I felt compassion for her.  Had I felt that compassion when I was on the stage, I may have been able to complete the poem and still have that moment with her.  Who knows?  The point is that she had nothing against me when she jumped up there.  She was just caught up in the fear of loss.  Once that fear subsided she saw more clearly and was actually awesome enough to enlighten me on why she had that reaction.  I think we were both blessed by the encounter.  This may sound crazy, but in that experience I considered the possibility that Jesus was blessed by his experience as well.  As he said in Matthew 5:43-45 quoted above, “pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,that you may be sons of your Father in heaven”.  A lot of us talk the Talk, but get upset when Life gives us an opportunity to walk the Walk.  Like I did on that stage, we find reasons not to finish.  But thank God we are not limited to those moments.  We always have an opportunity to learn from these encounters and because one of us has spoken those words we have it in us to say, “FFTFTKNWTD” for others as well as ourselves.

5 replies »

  1. This is a great post. Sometimes we know something is true in our heads but it takes experience to drive it home to the heart. There is more freedom in forgiving than in holding on to an offense. Of course, it doesn’t mean we ignore the offense. Jesus didn’t. But we surrender our right to be right, and that’s truly liberating.


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