by Alex Knepper
It is true enough to say that it is one of the mysteries of the power of forgiveness that we grant it despite someone’s unworthiness; we could even go farther and say that none are worthy of it, and by our own efforts and merits, vanishingly few of us appear as worthy of much forgiveness, considering what we have squandered, abused, distorted, suppressed, and denied that God has given to us. Even this recognition is uncommon.
But Christians must go farther than this. We must say that all are worthy of forgiveness, through what Christ has won for humanity; namely, the doing away with our vain notions of ‘worthiness’ and ‘unworthiness.’ From the standpoint of forgiving despite someone’s unworthiness, we still make ourselves masters and magnanimous, meritorious; we are still pointing back to what we have done for others and what we do by our efforts. We must go farther than to forgive; we must ascend to universal love, seeing the crucified Christ in everyone we find contemptible and low. This is why God, whose splendor and majesty are beyond compare, made himself contemptible and low, and why the only promise of Heaven Christ ever made to an individual was to a crucified criminal (Luke 23:43): hated, thrown away with contempt — to do away with the world’s meritless systems of merit and throw open the gates of the kingdom for all those who seek it and ask for it (Matthew 7:7). The crucified criminal deserved paradise simply by asking for it; by making it known to himself and God what it is he really wanted.
Of course, even a gift must be accepted to be received. (John 20:23) And an injunction to recognize not just that we should forgive, but that we should actively love seems impossible to swallow. It points to the mystery contained in the injunction to ‘turn the other cheek’, one of the most difficult teachings of Jesus. But it is the mystery of the Trinity: not just that God has forgiven us despite our terribleness, but that God actively loves creation and does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9) — and that means anyone. ‘Worthy is Christ, the lamb who was slain!’ we sing in the liturgy — and now it is our task to see the crucified Christ in all those we find contemptible, and do our best to treat them as we would wish to be treated, were we in their shoes, even when it doesn’t make any sense in everyday human systems of justice.