October 8, 2020
"It is in pardoning that we are pardoned." In November 1945, ten Polish prisoners of war broke into the home of the Hamelmann family in Bremen, Germany, and murdered the mother and four daughters of the family, leaving the father, Wilhelm, wounded by gunshots but still alive. As a follower of Jesus, Wilhelm believed that he had to forgive rather than retaliate. From the hospital, he sent word that he wanted no word spoken at the burial ceremony for his lost family members to lead to new hatred. For the next twenty years, he worked to have the six surviving murderers released from prison, and when that day finally came, he personally picked them up from the penitentiary. Though his gracious actions were incomprehensible to his neighbors, Wilhelm Hamelmann was motivated by the love and grace of Jesus Christ.
The theologian Jürgen Moltmann comments on the story of Hammelmann in his book The Spirit of Hope: Theology for a World in Peril. He says that "servants of evil are healed through forgiveness, not through punishment. Retribution would merely confirm them in their slavery. Forgiveness confronts them with the great alternative, namely, life." Extending forgiveness gives new life to victims, as well. As the prayer of St. Francis acknowledges, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned. Jesus plainly says, "If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15). In addition to forgiveness from God, we receive blessings in this life when we forgive others: freedom from anger and resentment, restored relationships, and a deeper sense of joy. I think these are among the blessings 1 Peter 3 says we inherit when we "Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called - that you might inherit a blessing" (1 Peter 3:8).
Who in your life is God inviting you to pardon and forgive today? With gratitude for God's grace that gives all of us new life, let us pray:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Grace and Peace,