Foolish Love Forgives
(Week 1)

Matthew 5:21-4, 18:21-35
  When I dug into both Hebrew and Greek looking for the two words that would be translated as “forgive,” I was surprised to discover it was not two words, but many. Words that are translated as “forgive” could also mean loosen up, relax the tension, lift up, take away, take up, let go, permit, leave, send off, or abandon. Let’s focus on three of these: loosen up, lift up, and let go.

     Loosen up. I have a quiz that I give to couples when they are getting married. The last question in the quiz is, “Who will load the dishwasher?” It seems like an absurd question, but I find that marriages break apart as often over what might be considered mundane things as they do significant betrayals. Part of that is due to whether someone feels appreciated or not for the work they do in a marriage. But honestly, often it is because the work that one person is doing is not “right” according to the other person. Some of the worst fights in a marriage come down to someone loading the dishwasher “incorrectly.”

     I used to condescendingly think that was absurd. Then I had a friend come to live with us. She was a friend I often turned to for her wisdom and insight into various things, big and small. I had been grateful to her for recommending that our family start buying organic milk, for instance. She noticed that we didn’t drink a lot of milk, and so we usually were pouring quite a bit of it down the drain once it reached its expiration date a couple weeks after I bought it. She pointed out that, while organic milk was a little more expensive, it had a 5-6 week later expiration date. Not only did we spend far less, we also usually got almost to the end of the milk carton before it expired.

     When she came to live with us, she also had helpful suggestions for how to load the dishwasher. And how to clean the baseboards (which I didn’t even know was a thing). And how to vacuum the floors. And how to raise my child! And soon enough the recommendations were not just suggestions, but things she insisted on. Guess what happened to the tension in the house? Guess what happened to our friendship? Actually, we were able to save the friendship – she moved out.

     There was a whole lot of loosening up that was needed in that situation, from both of us, and we were sometimes good at that, but toward the end, success at relaxing the tension became more and more elusive.

      Forgiveness is about letting go of some of our expectations and control. But it is also about knowing how to cut the tension. Sometimes the best way to do that is to spend time talking through why something matters so much to someone. Sometimes the best thing to do is put space between you –  a proverbial cutting of the rope - relaxing the tension that way. But it does mean loving the person enough to seek the solution.

     Lift up. Loving the person enough to seek the solution. Here we are again, back to love! Love in spaces that need forgiveness can be stomach churning. There is probably a festering wound there. There may also be great distance between you and the person you need to forgive.

    When I have someone I need to forgive, inevitably someone will suggest that I pray for them. Honestly, that is often the last thing I want to do. But usually I will eventually dutifully undertake that task. My prayers do not start out charitable. Sometimes they go something like this: “Dear Jesus, please help that person quit being such an idiot! Amen!”

    As time goes on, however, my prayers for that person intersect with prayers I have for other people. Maybe it is the combination of prayers, maybe it is the Holy Spirit working on my heart, maybe a little of both, but the result is that my prayers for that person change. Often my change of heart comes as I minister to others who remind me of the person I struggle with. I will be praying for someone with cancer, and I will remember that the person who needs forgiveness had a resurgence of cancer a few months ago. I will be praying for someone who has lost their uncle, and I will remember the person I am praying for lost their husband a couple years ago. Now I am starting to wonder if some of these things might be impacting how that person treats people. Now I am starting to remember times I have behaved selfishly when I am facing my own crises. Now not only are my prayers changing, my understanding of that person is changing as well.

     Even in situations when the person’s actions are inexcusable, there is something about lifting the person up in prayer that changes the pain of the situation. It doesn’t always eliminate the pain, but it does transform it. You know, the words Jesus gave to us to pray to God – the words known widely as the Lord’s Prayer – are not very many, but they contain words that ask for us to be forgiven and assume that we have forgiven others. The importance of that prayer is illustrated in the story this week about the man who refused to forgive debts, even after his own have been forgiven. Jesus knows such forgiveness doesn’t come easy, but gives us a prayer to make forgiveness a regular part of our faith. God knows that prayer can help change our grudges into forgiveness.

    Let go. Why do you suppose forgiveness is so important to God? Not only is it the center of the one prayer Jesus gives us to pray, but it is also at the heart of the sacrificial system at the center of Temple worship from the beginning. From the very beginning of Temple worship, reparation offerings were required to heal brokenness in the community. Obviously it is something God sees as definitive of our relationship with God and others.

    The answer may come in Matthew 5:21-23. Jesus is taking on the “Do not murder” commandment, and expanding it to say that anyone who is angry with your brother or sister is in danger of judgment. Jesus even warns against calling someone an idiot (uh oh – I really have to watch my prayers, don’t I?)! How are murder and anger equivalents though?

     First, anger kills a relationship. When it is among family, that has a particular vulnerability to it, especially in the ancient world. To cut off from family was effectively to end a name, an identity, and without those things (in the ancient world especially), you might as well be dead.

     Second, anger takes your own life from you. I have watched people twist themselves up into balls of hate. Their anger and their grudge becomes their whole purpose. They become people with no joy, no light, and no life to them. They are solely defined by their hate.

    Anger is a death sentence, but not for the person you are angry at. Rarely is that person remotely as affected as you are – unless your anger has truly twisted you into a person who spends your time torturing them. No, anger kills you. Recall the quote attributed to The Buddha: “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

     God has given us forgiveness as a gift. It is the gift of letting go. It is a gift of being free from anger, hate, and hurt. And the best thing is, you do not even always have to let the other person know you have forgiven them!

    Both of the passages for this week imply – or even state – that you must find the person and heal the relationship face-to-face. Sometimes that is a necessary part of forgiveness. However, sometimes it is just that we are invited to let go of the anger. After all, if you come to the altar and you are not angry with your brother or sister, you do not need to go find them and make things right before you bring your sacrifice forward.

    There are situations where face-to-face reconciliations bring about tremendous healing all around. Then, there are situations where face-to-face invites more need for forgiveness. This is especially true in abusive situations. Jesus may call us to forgive a multitude of times, but Jesus does not call us to continue to participate in unhealthy or dangerous situations (we will address this more when we look at the riskiness of foolish love).

    What we are called to do is forgive. Forgiveness does not actually have to involve the other person at all. It is an internal, spiritual state. It is working on our own heart, or allowing the Holy Spirit to work on our heart, so that we can let go of all that pain we are carrying around. And we should let go. After all, it is killing us. Loosen up. Lift up. Let go. No wonder there is no one word for forgiveness. It takes all these things to truly experience the wonderful, freeing, abundant life that God wants for us. But it is also not beyond our reach. We need only lean on Jesus, and then take that first step.

  • The Lord’s Prayer asks God to forgive us as we forgive others. Sometimes we quit paying attention to words we speak ritually like that prayer. What do those words mean to you now as you stop and consider them?
  • In the video, Pastor Ray Wheeler suggests that true forgiveness is not real unless you are forgiving something unforgivable. What do you think about that challenge? Have you ever forgiven something unforgivable? If so, what did it take to get there?
  • How is forgiveness a gift from God?
  • Who do you most need to forgive right now?


Sunday, February 18
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:21-24; 18:21-35
    Humility. That is a concept that seems to be a bit out of style in this day and age. It is much more “in style” to deflect, deflect, deflect, and point your finger at the other side. Showing humility is seen as a sign of weakness. It has somehow become a negative to admit any wrongdoing; there is a prevailing thought that any admission of wrongdoing is only ammunition that can later be used to attack you. Our world has become a binary where you are either right, or it is someone else’s fault.
    In the above passage we see Jesus using a rhetorical technique that he often used: “You have heard it said…but I say.” In this, he would quote some aspect of the law, in this case, “don’t commit murder,” and then would extend it to explain to the listeners other actions that were akin to murder, in this case, simply harboring anger against another human. That seems a big jump from the act of murder, but I believe that Jesus’s point was that harboring this anger created the same type of rift within the community that murder did. If you are this angry with someone, they may as well be dead to you.
    Notice that Jesus changes his tune towards the end. For the first half, he is speaking to the listeners about their own anger, but for the second half, he encourages the listeners to take the first step towards healing. Reading between the lines a little bit, I believe part of what Jesus is encouraging is for the listeners to make the first step towards making amends, even if they might have experienced the “bigger” hurt. The healing and wholeness of the community was more important than any sort of personal grudges anyone harbored.
With that said, taking the first step towards healing necessitates a posture of humility. If we are going to forgive and be forgiven, sometimes that means taking an uncomfortable first step and admitting our own wrongdoing. Let us all strive to take these steps and work toward a more loving and compassionate world.
- Wesley Wells

Monday, February 19
Scripture Reading: John 8:1-11
    When I read this chapter and re-read it, I was going in a different direction completely. Today it’s clearer to me that none of us humans are without sin; therefore, we cannot judge another! Interestingly, when Jesus asked anyone without sin to throw a stone, none could. (Leviticus 20:10 -If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.) Jesus gave her a second chance - why? Do we all deserve a second chance to make things right?
    “The greater their sin and deeper their misery, the more earnest and tender will be your efforts for their recovery.” – Ellen G. White
    Jesus taught unconditional Love.
    Most people know me as the lady with the welcoming smile and a warm hug! Well, there’s another side that I’ve held hostage for more than 20 years. It’s a demon, that until this writing I didn’t realize needed to be unleashed. When I was asked to write about “Foolish Love Forgives,” without hesitation I said yes. I was not thinking I’d have to do some soul searching into Marie Hughes Blankenship. No, I’m not an adulteress, murderer, thief, serial killer, or anything like that. But I have harbored hate for a supplier that I was forced to work with and cover up things against company policy because I was threatened by my supervisor. I was close to retirement, I stuck it out until I could retire without penalty, daily withstanding verbal attacks from that “supervisor”! Subsequently, my husband believes that caused my health decline that could not be immediately diagnosed. After many specialized hospital trips to Mayo in Rochester, MN, doctors determined that I had juvenile epilepsy, a rare form for a 63 year-old! After many tries of medications to treat the symptoms, we finally found the correct formula 3 years later.  My condition, doctors believe, is irreversible, causing me to be on medications for the remainder of my life. I do not have any long-term memory, sense of smell or taste. I rely on my husband, family and friends to share memories and events with me. I keep journals now of what I’m told as a reminder of events of my past. That four-letter word HATE can cause so much pain and misery, had I used my biblical teachings of the other four-letter word LOVE, I probably would be able to do a lot more things I used to enjoy. As of this writing I HAVE FORGIVEN THAT COMPANY AND SUPERVISOR and unleashed my demon! Do you think I deserve a second chance?
- Marie Blankenship

Tuesday, February 20
Scripture Reading: Mark 2:1-12
     The kids in my neighborhood like to play with sticks. We of course use the proper safety precautions, like not aiming at each other's faces. But one day things got out of hand. My neighbor and I both liked this one stick. It was a long and thin one made out of pine that looked
like a spear. My friend had that stick for several months, but soon forgot about it and left it outside. So I took it. I enjoyed that stick for a very long time, but one time when I took it outside, he spotted it and demanded that I give it back to him. I said, “No!” but he was determined and tried to take it with force. I fought back, because I thought I could win, being bigger than him. But as we fought, he bit me, and it hurt like the dickens! The pain caused me to realize that this was going nowhere. “Stop!” I yelled. Apparently, I had also hurt him in the process, so he ran inside his house. A few moments later, his mom came out with the stick and broke it over her leg. She explained that no stick was worth hurting someone over. Just like that, the conflict was over, and his mom brought over my mom. We talked it out. As we discussed the conflict, I felt as if my friend owed me an apology. At that time, I would have thought I was the one forgiving my friend, like in the passage. But I soon realized that I was also in the wrong. I could have given him the stick and avoided the issue. I could have returned the stick when I found it. But I did neither. We were both like the paralyzed man who received forgiveness. As Jesus points out, it can be very hard to forgive someone. In fact, Jesus compares it to healing someone's paralysis. But forgiveness is always worth it. I am very grateful that I have Jesus’ example to follow.
- Duncan McCullough

Wednesday, February 21
Scripture Reading: Acts 9:10-19
    In Acts 9:10-19, Ananias is sent by Jesus to Saul so Saul may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Ananias doesn’t understand and questions why Jesus would do this for a man who was openly talking against him, but Jesus said he had plans for Saul. Although not fully understanding, Ananias does what Jesus asked.
    A friend told me I was too nice for my own good and was a fool because I continued to be kind to someone who was not kind to me. Not always though. There were times that I obsessively ran the ugly words from this person through my head and came up with one-line zingers that I would plan to say to get back at them. Sleep was interrupted and I was beginning to talk badly about this person.
    I prayed for some relief, but nothing changed. Then one night, as I was questioning why I couldn’t forgive this person and just let everything go, I clearly heard to pray for the other person too. I questioned this but did add them to my prayer. At first it felt odd, but in no time, the turmoil inside me was gone, and I was able to forgive them. In fact, I came to understand them and their actions while being true to myself.
    Find the courage to listen and follow Jesus even when you have questions, just like Ananias.
- Jodi Burks

Thursday, February 22
Scripture Reading: Luke 7:36-50
I am but a white feathered egret raised up from the mud of West Tennessee. This piece of land wedged between two mighty rivers is my home: the village that raised me. Though I sing a melody recounting stories of my neighbors who mothered me, sometimes I look across the river and weep. Heartbroken by the words said and actions done that have directly attacked my soul and humanity. I’ve been told to fly away and not put up with this hate. But I tell you hear these words, “They are my family and for that I extend all the grace and patience I have to them.” I know deep down that grace may not be reciprocated back to me in this lifetime, but it’s not about that.
It’s about a mirror.
Hanging on the wall, beautiful and strong.
Bound together by the Spirit reflecting the image of God.
But the wall has quaked, the mirror has fallen, and we have shattered.
Sharp, uncomfortable, unnavigable glass blades strewn on the floor.
We find ourselves amid this dangerous landscape, constantly reminded of how messy we are.
But we do not forget our purpose: what we once were and are capable of now.
While broken and shattered, we are all still reflections of the Divine.
Anger and resentment will attempt to bar us from reconnection and reunion.
But it is not our birthright to remain divided and fragmented.
Through forgiveness we pull ourselves together becoming one in the Spirit.
So, when I gaze across the river or the aisle, I remind myself of the mirror: who we are. Though difficult, I forgive my neighbor for being sharp, a symptom of the shaking wall, not a definition of their soul. When we look to our brothers and sisters truly as our family, we cannot ignore the Spirit that binds us. My village of West Tennessee gave me my egret feathers, but it was forgiveness, freedom from anger and resentment, that granted me flight. And it is with these wings I shall fly back home again and again for as long as I live.
- Jake Cocke

Friday, February 23
Scripture Reading: John 21:15-17
    When Pastor Michelle asked me to write a Lenten devotional, I was taken aback. She could not have known at the time that I was in a state of high anxiety. 2023 had been a tough year at work, and I had placed a large amount of pressure on myself. Over the year it had been building, but I was not aware. I have a very close friend at work and a few months prior to Michelle’s ask, he pointed out that I was not hearing others but rather just listening. I was creating conflict when it did not actually exist.
    When I read this passage, which I have read many times over the years, I see Peter’s reaction from a whole different perspective. It was the same reaction I was having with co-workers. Peter was hurt that Jesus asked him 3 times if he loved him. Not hearing that Jesus was calling Peter to be the rock that was to build His church. Peter was to be the foundation for Jesus’ ministry. But he was only able to hear a portion of the message.
    Over the past few weeks while working on the devotion, I have been able to forgive myself for not hearing others. I see where my anxiety was clouding my view of my work world. Jesus knew the reaction he was going to get from Peter. He lovingly asked Peter 3 times to hear Him.
    This Lenten season, know that God’s Grace is all around us each day. I hope you take the time to not only listen to His calling, but to hear as well.
- Bill Fernandez

Saturday, February 24
Scripture Reading: Romans 5:8
    A number of years ago, we sang in a church choir. When Lent came, the choir director said that it was time to get out the sad songs. When someone close to us dies, we do say prayers of sorrow and at the service we may then sing sad songs. Death is something that saddens the heart, for a person close to us will no longer be in our lives. We rejoice in the memories but miss the companionship and fun that we had. Had we been with the disciples watching Jesus die, sorrow would have been great. This motley crew discovers later that what seems like a tragedy is actually an expression of love for them.
    Jesus is crucified with two criminals. God’s love for the repentant one shows that love and grace for even those rejected by society and the government. As we practice the imitation of Christ, we also must show love for the unlovable. As I consider the teachings of Jesus, I wonder if there wasn’t love for the unrepentant one. Only God knows what was going on in the life and the mind of a criminal. Can we use the guidance of the Holy Spirit to see those persons as God sees them? We will fall way short, but we can let God provide his grace and love for them.
    Paul is not watching the crucifixion as he writes this. He is looking back to the whole passion story discussing the meaning of Christ’s death while remembering the resurrection. He rejoiced when he learned that the crucifixion was for him and all of those created in the image of God. When we look back at the crucifixion, it is time to get out the happy songs. Let your voice rejoice in the love of God that we see in Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection.
- Tim Pratt