The Rev. Dr. Dwight Moody shares a personal story that drives home our need to forgive others and ourselves.
A few years ago I sat on the back bench in a federal court. A young man stood before the judge to hear his sentence. He had robbed two banks. Now he was begging for mercy.
He turned to a young woman sitting on the other side of the court room. "I am sorry," he said to her. "You did not deserve what happened to you." Tears were streaming down his face. "I hope you will forgive me."
His lawyer had made a motion, asking the judge to deviate from the federal sentencing guidelines, claiming diminished capacity.
A few moments of silence kept us in suspense.
The prosecutor took his stand, pulled from his case a letter, and read it to the judge. It was written by that young woman on the back row, the woman addressed by the defendant.
"I hate you," the letter began. "You do not deserve mercy. I was 9 months pregnant that day you walked into my bank. I hate you. It was my birthday. You have ruined my life. I have been in therapy because of what you did. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you."
I was stunned.
The young man faced years in a federal prison, but the young woman? Was she also trapped? Was she also facing a sentence handed down by the resentment that filled her spirit? a sort of self-incarceration of the soul?
In my memory and imagination I have replayed that scene many times. The young man served his time; his key to release was good behavior and a sentence of determined length. But the young woman: she held in her hand the only key she needed to escape the bondage she expressed that day.
It is the key of forgiveness.
Over and over the gospel urges us to forgive those who have wronged us. Jesus taught us to pray, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive others." Paul the apostle urges us to "bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other." He goes on to write: "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts."
Here at the end of the year, who is it you need to forgive? Somebody did you wrong? Somebody ruined your day, your birthday, your whole year? A friend, a boss, a colleague, a stranger, a spouse?
Resentment and hatred can keep you in prison for years? Only you have the key to freedom, happiness, and a life full of promise and pleasure: Just as the Lord has forgiven you, forgive those who done you wrong. And God bless you.