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Forgiveness

by Rev. Fr. K. K. John

Forgiving: “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good,” Gen 50:20.

"Man proposes, God disposes," thus says an English adage. Is it true and if true how far? Story of Joseph in the Bible is an epitome of a forgiving mind, a proof that even if man decides to hurt one's feelings or rob one's best part of life, nothing shall ultimately prevail against what God has destined and therefore no need to grudge against those who are bitter and lack discernment. God is powerful to convert even the most sinister plots of the unrighteous for the good of righteous.

David said, 'Because God is his strength of life, he shall fear none. When the wicked came against him to eat his flesh, they stumbled.' "Though an army encamp against me, my heart will not fear," Ps 27: 1-3. "The Lord is at my side, I will not fear. What man can do to me?" Ps 118.6.

Willie and Millie were distantly related but perennially hostile neighbors. The two initiated frequent fights over frivolous matters. Millie had a piece of land (corner) with many fruit-bearing Jack and Mango trees in it. He planned to construct a hospital in that site. One night, Willie out of rage engaged labors and cut down big trees so as to incur loss to Millie. Not knowing what happened, Millie brought workers to cut down the trees to mark foundation for the proposed hospital. As they approached the site, Willie hilariously watched Millie's reaction to damage of his property, wanting to ensue a fight. Quite unexpectedly, Millie smiled at Willie and thanked him for a job done free. He said he brought laborers to cut the trees and dig foundation for the hospital but now he got it done for free. No doubt Willie did it with ill-intent but the same turned out good for Millie. This is a familiar story often retold in the platforms and yet most of us can relate such or similar incidents in our lives from neighbors and siblings. Things which one intents to harm the other, sometimes surprisingly turn good for them.

An incident comes to my mind. The story is real and yet in a spirit of forgiveness and not to inflame hatred I refrain from mentioning names. A parish in a populous city was split based on different conviction among members. Group 'A' held the existing building and the other group 'B' peacefully went away. They acquired a site and began construction of a multistoried church building. RCC columns were raised up-to first floor level; readied the platform with iron-frame, mud and scaffoldings for laying concrete. Next day when they came to lay concrete the floor and the RCC pillars were found broken, scaffoldings, removed and damaged. This was the handiwork of 'A' who was nostalgic to 'B' who engaged rowdies to dismantle the construction. 'B' registered a police complaint and brought building inspectors to assess the damage. They came in and after inspection said, "You honestly thank those who damaged the edifice. It was a blessing. Had it not been damaged now you would have incurred heavy loss including lives in the future because the pillars were constructed with substitute cement." Everyone wondered how substitute cement came into scene when the parish had bought good cement. Then it was known that the engineer who was also the member of the parish had other construction business and made a temporary adjustment. What the sub-contractor replaced was substitute cement and the engineer did not suspect. No one questioned the honesty. The inspectors suggested disbanding the whole construction and make new altogether and that was exactly done. Here 'A' conceived ill of 'B' but it turned a blessing to 'B'. This is a great lesson we all need to learn.

Here is a typical instance where brothers out of sheer jealousy imperiled the life of Joseph, son of Jacob. They hated him, abused him and hatched a plot to kill him but later sold to foreigners. He was again sold as slave to Potiphar. Potiphar's wife falsely implicated him and he was imprisoned. For years, he endured numerous afflictions for the sake of righteousness. Finally became the most powerful man of the most powerful empire of the time. The brothers who conceived ill about him unknowingly became victim of their own vindictiveness; put themselves at the mercy of Joseph. Joseph could have easily revenged them. Instead, Joseph saw the hand of God in the ill-treatments of brothers. He had therefore no difficulty to forgive them.

Verse 20 of Genesis chapter 50 is ‘50/20 principle’ according to some thinkers. Can we honestly forgive those who intentionally hurt us when we are truly innocent? There is nothing more a Himalayan task than to forgive those who hurt us. Joseph is a towering personality in the Old Testament who demonstrated forgiveness of unparalleled excellence. He is a type of Christ. 'Joseph' means just. Genesis ends with Joseph's death and his great message of forgiveness.

Joseph endured too many hardships at the hands of his brothers. Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob but the first son to Rachael. Jacob loved Joseph more than other sons because Joseph was born to him in his old age. Another reason was that Joseph was the first son to his best loved wife, Rachel. Jacob was in love with Rachael and wanted to marry Rachael. Jacob did not marry Leah willingly. Laban, his future father in law and uncle, cheated Jacob to marry Leah. Jacob who deceived his father is now the victim of deceiveness! Jacob served another seven years as slave to Laban only for his love for Rachael. Leah lived with perilous jealousy to her sister Rachael.

Rachael was barren for a long time and endured much insults from Leah. So it was natural that Jacob showed more love to Joseph. Jacob bought a special kind of tunic for Joseph. For this reason his brothers grew jealous of Joseph. This is a positive warning to all parents against favoritism to a certain child over other children. Sibling jealousy, hatred and rivalry are as old as mankind, to begin with Cain and Abel, the first siblings. Cain grew jealous of Abel because Abel offered righteous offering to God and God was pleased with Abel. That story ended in murder; Cain killed Abel.

Isaac and Rebecca are bad example as parents. Father favors older son Esau and mother favors younger son Jacob. Rebecca connived with Jacob to deceive Isaac who was blind and Esau who was legitimately entitled to father's blessings. Parent’s favoritism and deception was precursor to so many family tragedies that we see later.

Jacob inherited favoritism from his parents as an attribute. He favored one wife, Rachael more than the other and one son, Joseph, more than the others. Sisters, Leah and Rachael shared the same man as husband and that nurtured life-long envy and enmity. Leah and Rachael are classic example for never-ending sibling rivalry. The well-known columnists, "Dear Abby" and "Ann Landers" were twin sisters and enemies at the same time, says an article.

To make matters worse, Joseph saw a dream, that they were binding sheaves in the field. His sheave arose and stood upright and the sheaves of the brothers gathered around and bowed to his sheave. Joseph saw another dream. The sun, the moon and eleven stars bowed down to him. These kindled hatred and wrath from brothers, Gen 37:3-11. The lesson is; one must be cautious in divulging to others what one feels in mind even if it is the truth.

The brothers went to Shechem to tend sheep. Jacob sent Joseph to find out their welfare. The brothers saw Joseph from a distance and conspired to kill him. Their hatred was such high that they do not call him brother, but dreamer. Reuben pleaded to spare his life and suggested to cast him in the pit and it was done. Reuben here is portrayed as a better guy among siblings for his ulterior intention was to restore Joseph to the father. But other brothers sold him to slavery, for twenty shekels of silver as Judah suggested. Then they dipped his robe in the sheep’s blood and lied to Jacob that animals devoured his beloved son to pieces and showed the bloodstained coat as proof. Reuben and Judah deserve immense credit for saving his life.

Taking advantage of his blindness Jacob cheated his father. Jacob, while not yet blind, is now cheated by his sons. His eyesight rendered no use for he failed to distinguish animal blood and human blood of his son. He has been thoroughly duped to carry the bitterness for a long time. How true is the saying, ‘as you sow so you reap?’

We have no evidence to show that the brothers made any attempt to trace their sold out brother which further heightens their hard-heartedness. They were probably relieved of father’s favoritism and completely forgot about Joseph. Hard heartedness is a great malady. It turns the man away from God. It is full of sinful thoughts. It knows not goodness. It is unkind and wicked.

I would like to share an incident that took place not long after Fr. Dale became a priest. He went to his native place on vacation the chief purpose being to conduct the first Holy Eucharist in his native parish. Fr. Dale planned to conduct the first Holy Mass in his home parish, second in an outside Kerala City parish of which he was a founding member and the third in a famous shrine in the memory of St Mary. On the way back home he planned to visit another South Indian City where his very close friend who was an esteemed priest and spend couple of days with him.

Before starting journey to the first City, Fr. Dale received an invitation to attend a marriage in the city where he was going to visit. The card was very a expensive one, so it was easy to make out that the inviting party was very rich. Fr. Dale was thoroughly taken by surprise because he did not know the person who invited him and why. None of the names mentioned in the invitation was familiar. He did not wonder about unfamiliar house name because these days traditional names have been displaced with fashionable words, "Titbit Villa," "Jimmy cottage," "Little Flower Bungalow" and so on; unless one knows in person it is difficult to identify even the next house. Peculiarity of the situation made him look at the card closely and that led him to another surprise. Heading of the card read, "Mr. Jack, request the honor of your presence at the wedding ceremony of my daughter, Diana to Loyola ..." Neither the heading nor the text showed mother's name (Not actual names). This was something unusual. Fr. Dale enquired with his friend about the invitation. The friend said Mr. Jack was his friend and the card was sent at his behest for the marriage takes place when Fr. Dale was staying with him as guest and he did not like to leave the guest alone. When pointed out the peculiarity, he unfolded a long story.

Mr. Jack was a small retailer by profession, very frugal in spending, a committed husband and caring father of seven children. He had meager income in the beginning. He was extremely religious, kept away from bad habits like partying, drinking and smoking, etc. He studied stock market and finance in his spare time. He keenly followed the stock market trend and proficiently managed his small funds to begin with and also invested in real estate. He had high volume of work especially during festival season. For this reason he came home in late hours fully exhausted from the day's work. His wife, Sheba mother of seven children had a very hectic time with modest convenience in the house managing the routine of kids. By the end of the day, she was physically and mentally exhausted. Her patience ran out by the time Mr. Jack came home. She was unhappy about her husband being very late. Sheba murmured then complained in anger, then scolded and finally burst out in full resentment and all went unnoticed in the eye of the busy husband. She felt he was not helping her and had no concern about her sufferings. On the other hand Jack felt she was not appreciating his hard work as the bread winner of the house and the fact that he takes care of every need in the house. Needless to elaborate, Jack and Sheba lived under the same roof more like strangers than partners and were in two different worlds. Both failed to understand and accommodate each other and there was no time for both to sit and talk about the differences.

Time was not a great healer in their case. Each day, they were mentally distancing from each other. One day as usual he returned from work at 10 O' Clock in the night. Sheba was feeding kids; some kids crying, some naughty, some disobedient and so on; she became impatient. Hearing noise from inside, the husband waited at the door and listened what was going on. He heard his wife saying to the children, "Oh my God, where is this guy, it is better to give poison and kill him than waiting like this." Sheba's words struck Jack like a thunder bolt. For a moment he was dumbfounded and was unable to speak. It heavily injured his heart. Fear overcast him that she might truly do what she said. He went back to shop and slept. He dared not to look at her face again. Next day he arranged separate house for her to live and they were separated from each other from that day forever. Jack takes care of the children; education, employment, marriage, housing, etc. Sheba and Jack are separated for over 25 years. Jack does not inform her about the marriage of the children, let alone invite her.

His wealth and status grew far beyond the ordinary over the years. He holds shares in many corporations, financial institutions and industries and owns numerous real estate properties; indeed a billionaire; still very religious and he constructed a church in his own land bearing full cost and dedicated it in the name of his patron saint. Children grew up, well educated and well employed and married to big magnates. Religious and political leaders, bishops, ministers, high ranking officials and renowned artists, are all his friends and well wishers. They are frequent visitors as his guests. In short, he is a formidable personality in that city. Chief celebrant of the marriage is "supreme head of the church" he added. Fr. Dale enquired, "If Jack is such devotee of the "supreme head" was it not proper for him to admonish Jack to reconcile with his wife, Sheba?" The friend answered, "Yes, he advised Jack many times, but in vain. Jack does not like to talk that subject."

Fr. Dale was all the more surprised to know that there are people who are socially in good standing but are more hard hearted than Pharaoh, Isabel, Hitler and Stalin that are still called Christians. Jesus Christ prayed for those who tortured and killed him. He taught first to reconcile with a brother and then go to the altar. Apostles advised, "Do not approach the altar without reconciling with one another." Here we have a husband who never bothered to understand the feelings of his wife, however bad she might have been. Not that what she thoughtlessly said needed vindication, but that he failed to seek an explanation from her, let alone forgive, and end a long and arduous impasse. That a husband cannot reconcile with his wife for decades, who bore seven children for him is too hard a heart, thoroughly opposed to Christianity. What a contradiction?

A few years ago some extremists in India brutally killed an Australian missionary and his two children. His wife pardoned the criminals who killed her husband and children. We have many cases where ordinary people forgiving sex-offenders and criminals.

Recently I read a story in the Deepika daily (a newspaper in India). Col Kaplar was Hitler's trusted lieutenant. During World War II Hitler occupied Rome and Col Kaplar gathered Jews and cheated them by sending them unawares to concentration camps. Monsignor Hue was a chaplain and he helped the Jews in various ways to escape Hitler's tyranny. The colonel knew it and tried many times to kill monsignor, but he escaped. Then Rome United force captured Rome and Hitler's army was rounded up. One day Kaplar came to Hue and asked if he really practiced what he preached about forgiveness. Hue said, yes. Then he implored Hue to forgive and show mercy on him. Hue asked him what he wanted to do for him. Kaplar said, he and his family were in danger and asked Hue to shelter them out of trouble. Hue forgave him all his past and helped his family to escape to safety. Years later when war was over Kaplar managed to find Monsignor Hue and thanked him for his great act of kindness. He wondered how monsignor could forgive him and help his family. He perceived that forgiveness is a virtue, changed his mind and became a disciple of monsignor who then baptized him.

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Fr. K. K. John is a priest with Indian Orthodox Church now residing in New Jersey

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