There are two obvious lessons of mercy we need to learn: to seek forgiveness from God and to extend forgiveness to our brother. They are linked in the Lord’s Prayer, such that the first will not happen without the second.
There is a third, more subtle lesson of mercy–and it is every bit as vital and essential as the first two, and if understood fully, we can see it does not stand apart from the first two, but is an entirely consistent outgrowth of them. It could even be said that without this third form of mercy the first two are incomplete.
If we have experienced forgiveness from God and have forgiven our brother, that seems to be all that is implied by the Lord’s Prayer, but it is not enough. Think of when Christ said “If when you are bringing your offering to the altar you remember that your brother has something against you, first go seek out your brother and be reconciled to him, and then make your offering.”
That almost seems odd.
One would expect Christ to instruct the person who has something against his brother to take the initiative. After all, he has told us that if we do not forgive our brother from our heart, neither will our heavenly Father forgive us.
What is going on here? This is a bit confusing and disconcerting. Why put the burden on the one who has presumably forgiven his brother and been forgiven by God? Does not that meet the criteria that has been spelled out in the Lord’s Prayer?
It is beginning to seem like not so much.
If we come to God’s altar without our brother due to separation based on an absence of forgiveness and reconciliation, we are not off the hook so easily. We may have indeed forgiven our brother sincerely from our heart, but evidently that is not enough. It is as if God is saying, like he did to Cain, “Where is your brother?” And, as always, a reply of “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is completely unacceptable.
If your brother has not forgiven you, perhaps you have not made it easy enough. Whatever the reason, you are not permitted to give up so readily.
Can we not see why? As long as your brother has not forgiven you, he stands outside of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness. We should never feel that we can rest comfortably if we are directly involved in such a situation!
This is where God is calling upon us to show mercy in a rarely considered way: to encourage another to show mercy and forgive. In doing so, are we not imitating Christ himself, who gave us just such encouragement–even precisely so, by giving us the Our Father containing the words we had initially assumed were all there was to it?
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”
Seeking out reconciliation with those who hold something against us is where mercy takes on the same form that Christ showed us in giving us the prayer in the first place.
By exercising this form of mercy (by word or by deed) we obey the new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And we obediently cooperate in bringing our brother inside the circle of God’s mercy. Could we live with ourselves for not at least attempting that?
Maybe in the past we have told ourselves that we have have forgiven our brother and have received God’s forgiveness, and we do not necessarily need our brother’s forgiveness. Perhaps true, but he needs to forgive us.
What if we think we have tried and tried to have our brother forgive us and we have not been successful because we in fact have barely tried? Are we to console ourselves, saying, “Well, I tried”? That would seem to be a forbidden act of self-righteousness, wouldn’t it?
And that also would display a profound lack of zeal for seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness.
And wouldn’t it be akin to having removed the plank from your own eye then not following through by taking the splinter out of your brother’s eye?
This is not to say that we ever want to violate another’s freedom by demanding they forgive us–even for their own sake. We only want to encourage them with an open and unguarded heart (because, remember, this not about our selfish needs). If they are not receptive to our best efforts, we must, like Christ, accept their final answer as No. We simply must not give up without a sincere attempt. But we must also accept that only the Holy Spirit can move the heart. We are ultimately powerless in that regard.
If in the end we are rebuffed very hard? We are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, as always.