They sit beside each other on a straw mat—he in beige trousers and a white-and-purple shirt, she in a blue-and-yellow dress. “I participated in the killing of the son of this woman,” says Francois, one of thousands of Hutu men that perpetrated crimes against Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. “He killed my child,” says Epiphanie, “then he came to ask my pardon.”
My conversation with the woman had turned from the care of our Maltese poodle to her ex-husband and her estranged mother. “I can’t forgive my mother; she abused me terribly. And my husband abandoned me when I was ill.” Although she longed to be free of the two people who had left her among the walking wounded, she couldn’t forgive them and so bitterness clung to her like a rotting stench—seeping through her pained words and weary eyes.
Leprosy was one of the most feared diseases in Jesus’ day. It sentenced a person who was afflicted with it to an isolated and lonely existence. Jewish ceremonial laws forbid people from having physical contact with lepers. It required those with the disease to live “outside the camp,” isolated from their family and neighbors (Leviticus 14:2-3). If lepers were to venture out into the general public, they were to shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” so that people would know to keep their distance (Leviticus 13:45-46).
During his final pizza delivery of the night, three young men robbed and pistol-whipped 19-year-old Brady (causing a gash on his head that required 70 stitches). Fast forward 5 years. In June 2014, Brady and one of the young men who had assaulted him are the best of friends! Brady, a believer in Jesus, reached out to Marcellous—extending forgiveness and friendship. Marcellous credits Brady for helping him to finish high school and leaving gang-life behind.
Something about my 4-year-old daughter’s outfit looked odd. Taking a closer look, I noticed that her pockets were packed with stones. While our family had been roaming an outdoor area, she had been picking up pebbles and saving them. I had to empty her pockets; it was making it hard for her to walk!
When our washing machine malfunctioned, it spewed water through a heating vent and into our basement—drenching wallboard and carpeting. To prevent mold, we had to hire a company that set up special fans inside our house. The company’s motto read: “We will make it like new.”
Marcus was a convicted criminal on death row. He had previously apologized to the family of the teenager he raped and murdered. Now, just before he was executed by lethal injection, he said, “I’m going home to be with Jesus.” Apparently, during his time in prison he had received Jesus as his Savior. His words remind me of a certain criminal who died next to Jesus 2,000 years ago.
I was talking with a friend whose marriage had ended in divorce. For years he tried to apologize and to rebuild a relationship that was broken. His wife, however, was bitter over an event that she couldn’t forgive—or forget. The event involved a loving act he had done to help her, but she didn’t see it that way. And her heart became stone.
How badly would someone have to betray you before you turned your back on him forever? What if he told you that he loved you, would even die for you, but shortly thereafter adamantly denied that he even knew you? I’m guessing you’d turn your back on that person, or at least give him the cold shoulder for a few months.
In a speech given during the commencement of a newly formed missions agency, my friend—who heads up the ministry—spoke of its mission and vision. He also gave everyone a clear picture of its goals and plans.
Deep down, each of us longs to know what we’re here on earth to do—to have some sense of purpose and mission. Some people have a “life verse” from the Bible that gives them succinct focus. If you don’t have one of those, perhaps today’s passage is a good one to adopt.
I talked with a former British elite forces soldier who had faced many battles and emerged unscathed. He said, “I don’t believe in God.” I challenged him by saying these familiar words: “There are no atheists on the battlefield.”
While away from home on a lengthy work assignment, I attended a church quite different from my one back home. For instance, my adopted church observed communion (the Lord’s Supper) every time they met. Instead of the pastor or elders serving, ordinary members of the church shared responsibility for distributing the bread and wine.
I recently attended a meeting of leaders that could have become contentious and disastrous. It could have resulted in more fireworks than Chinese New Year! Thankfully, however, difficult issues were addressed with honesty and transparency. The big “I”—integrity—led individuals to speak words of truth, love, and forgiveness.