On April 27, 1983, a priest visited a convicted killer in Rome’s Rebibbia prison. With the priest often holding the other man’s hands gently in his, the two conversed for twenty minutes before parting with a handshake. Such a visit may have received little notice—except that the priest was Pope John Paul II and the other man, Mehmet Ali Agca, had attempted to assassinate him less than two years before.
High-profile acts of forgiveness often gather media attention, especially when the crimes have taken or threatened life itself. When Christians forgive those who have sought to harm them, they offer a mercy reminiscent of what Christ Himself showed when confronted by a crowd intent upon killing Him.
Notice in our reading that Jesus not only refused to strike out in anger, He also rebuked a disciple who did react violently, supposedly to protect Him. In fact, Jesus reached out in mercy to touch the servant whose ear His disciple had cut off, healing a man who had come seeking His life (Luke 22:51).
From our limited human perspective, it is impossible to predict the earthly results of such mercy. At times it yields astounding positive changes—relationships are restored and communities are healed. Yet in other instances, as in the case of Jesus Himself, offering mercy to one’s enemies may result in earthly tribulation. Ultimately, the reason Christ’s followers are to extend mercy is not that it will invariably secure positive earthly results but because it testifies to the character of our God in heaven. As Jesus says in Luke 6:35, those who follow Him are to “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High.”
Forgiving someone who has wronged us is difficult. And yet, Jesus asks, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” (Luke 6:32). We can forgive those who have hurt or mistreated us only through the power of the Holy Spirit. If you have resisted offering forgiveness to someone, ask the Lord to strengthen you and free you to forgive.