In 1992, Simon Wilson - a personal friend and one of Matthew’s Godfathers, was the victim of a hit and run car crash in rural Norfolk which left him chronically disabled. The driver was never caught but Simon’s experience led him to train for ordained ministry.
he said, ‘For me forgiveness has been about making sense of what
happened to me. I was 25, living with my parents and doing temporary
work when early one morning I was the victim of a hit and run accident.
The car came from nowhere, cut across me and forced me into the ditch.
The next thing that I knew was that I was in intensive care having
undergone major emergency surgery.
I was in hospital
for three months and in the following years had 12 more operations.
Then, four years ago, I was told that my condition was incurable and
that the prognosis was not good. In a way that was almost liberating
because up until then I’d always thought I could fix it... [as the
year’s passed] I became difficult to be around. But I knew I had to work
though it - find some sort of forgiveness so that I could bring closure
to the situation.
Forgiveness is something you have
to do every day and it’s something that you have to keep doing because
anything can trigger that anger again. I’m not angry that the driver
wasn’t locked up, but sometimes I do feel angry that they just drove off
without checking to see if I was alive or dead.
thing I find difficult is that in church I’ve heard sermons about
forgiveness and thought ‘who are you to tell me to forgive?’ It can
sound so easy but it’s the hardest thing in the world. Some people
within the church believe you can’t forgive unless the other person
repents but to me repentance isn’t a condition of forgiveness because
ultimately forgiveness comes from within. Only I know whether I forgive
Some people think I’m being pious telling
people to forgive but actually I don’t tell anyone to do anything, I
simply tell people that the place I’ve reached is a better place than
the place I was at before....’
Forgiveness provides the
lifeblood to the whole of Jesus’ ministry, even during this, the
bleakest and darkest few days of his life. Yet, forgiveness is so often
the antithesis of the way we react in any number of situations. Take
Simon’s situation for example - wouldn’t a more ‘normal’ response be
anger, fear, revenge. Forgiveness seems inappropriate even foolish.
apt it is that April Fool’s Day - a celebration of ‘the fool’, the
everyman who provides some light relief from the harshness of life -
falls today, on Palm Sunday, where Jesus offers everyman... and woman
and child relief from the harshness of life through forgiveness,
reconciliation and the offer of eternal life. The cross itself
epitmenises this paradox - on the one hand it is the instrument of
torture and other the symbol of forgiveness and life - and it is a
paradox- for through it God’s glory comes near.
here, facing death himself, Jesus offers someone forgiveness. He is
crucified with two thieves. One is penitent. About to die, he has no
time left to put his house in order or to make any reparation to those
he has injured. Yet, when he asks to be remembered, he is promised
paradise. Heaven is promised to the undeserving. That promise is our
only hope. Foolishness! The other thief, too, turns to Jesus and, in
his own bitter and sarcastic way, prays to him. I identify with him, for
I, too, have said to Jesus: "If you are who you claim to be, then, for
all our sake’s, do something!" Is there any hope for him? Is there any
hope for others of us whose prayers are sometimes as angry?
the penitent thief was promised paradise because he was penitent, then
there’s no hope for the impenitent. You don’t need a degree in theology
to work that out. But, if he is promised paradise, as Luke seems to
believe, because God accepts the least deserving, then there’s a glimmer
of hope for the impenitent thief, too — and for me. If God’s grace,
displayed on Christ’s cross, is truly for the last ones you’d expect, if
it is not conditional on the quality of my apology, then there is real
It is far easier to discuss God’s forgiveness
than to offer forgiveness ourselves. We still need to ponder what the
Revd Julie Nicholson, a Church of England priest, said in the aftermath
of the 7 July bombings in London in 2005, in which her daughter was
killed. Her vocation was to preach the foolishness of forgiveness and
then in a split-second, discovered that that foolishness was too much to
Forgiveness is a foolish act and is impossible
for us to offer without God having offered it to us first - through
foolishly becoming one of us, through ridiculously standing against the
religion of his day, through speaking and acting life in the face of
death, through triumphantly entering the city as king on an ass, through
hanging on a cross.
Forgiveness is nothing short of
holy madness, but God doesn’t offer it from a distance, aloofly, but
from within, alongside us, from our side of the divide between us for it
is from the heart of desolation and darkness on the cross flows
God has offers me, the impenitent
thief, hope, even in the face of death. God stumbles into the broken
monotony of my life singing of destabilizing subversive grace and
freeing me to become what Martin Luther King called ‘creatively
maladjusted’ to the way the world works and how it expects me to react.
He calls me to hold fast to the foolishness of Christ - not to
rationalize or understand it - knowing that it is in his foolishness
that our wholeness lies and that from him, and then even through me,
that forgiveness flows.
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