by Joanie Butman
It is exactly because we don’t know when Jesus will return to redeem our broken world that He asks us to be His ‘boots on the ground.’ It’s true that before He left He promised to be with us always, but not in the way He was when He walked among us – which is why He calls us to be His agents of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That’s a tall order – one might be tempted to say an impossible one. When called, even Moses pleaded, “Lord. Please send someone else.” And I’ve been known to do the same – especially when it comes to forgiveness, and no one has ever done anything heinous to me. As humans, revenge is our default mode, NOT forgiveness. There’s a reason I have a penchant for vigilante movies. I’m not alone or they wouldn’t be so popular.
Some of the most inspiring acts of courage I’ve ever witnessed didn’t take great strength, daring or fearlessness. Well, I suppose they did, but not in the way that Hollywood likes to portray. The courage of families of crime victims to forgive the perpetrator doesn’t make headlines or the big screen, but when I think of strength and courage those are the deeds that come to mind. The response of the Amish community to the 2006 school shooting and the Sandy Hook community’s response I mentioned last week are just two examples. Similar situations unfold quietly on a daily basis as people offer radical forgiveness for sins committed against them.
Forgiveness is an excellent topic given current events and a timely topic during Lent. Teaching to the end, Christ gives us His last lesson and example on forgiveness from the cross when He prays for His executioners: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” What better example of grace can we look toward when challenged to forgive as He instructs? The apostle Peter thinks he’s being magnanimous (and I would have thought the same) when he asks Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Much to his chagrin, Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22).
That doesn’t seem humanly possible, and it’s not. It takes divine intervention, but we have to choose to seek it. As James Martin describes, “true forgiveness is a gift from God. It’s a grace.” His next statement is even more encouraging for me and anyone else who struggles with forgiveness, “even if you don’t have the desire to forgive, if you have the desire for the desire, that’s enough. God can work with that.” There’s hope for me yet.
Boots on the ground is a military term from a seal team show I like. Not surprising because it’s about the good guys going in to save the day. Their success is predicated on the condition of each member and how well they work together. Our mission is no different. It’s vital that we stay spiritual fit not only for ourselves but for others. We need to choose to rely on the Holy Spirit and each other for support – for faith when ours is waning, for prayers when we can’t find the words, for strength and courage to forgive when vengeance is what we’d prefer. That said, the key to any successful mission is to choose to begin with knees on the ground. Only then can we hope to access the divine intervention we need to accomplish what's not possible on our own.