Justice or forgiveness?

John Hatcher's picture

During the recent state funeral for President Gerald Ford, someone observed that the great outpouring of gratitude and grief reflected a nation atoning for its errors of criticism and cynicism of the former president especially in pardoning Richard Nixon. Even Senator Edward Kennedy who had denigrated Ford for his pardon took to the Senate floor to say Ford was right and he was wrong.

History allows for many things, but especially it allows for perspective which, in turn, allows for us to repent of our narrow views and moralistic judgments. Many of us are blessed to hang around to see history vindicate the wronged.

The Ford funeral with all its pageantry, song, and stirring words, more than his pardon of Nixon, brought to end the long and sad chapter of American politics — that chapter that scarred many of my generation. Now I believe we can “go forth to lead the land we love, asking his blessings and his help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own”(final sentence of JFK’s Inaugural Address).

The Ford funeral would have been an apt beginning of the season of Lent which began one week ago today as Ash Wednesday. The funeral caused many of us to examine our own hearts. Still, I heard some indicate they would have preferred justice to forgiveness.

Yet, forgiveness is always the best way forward. Some still hold to bitterness toward the Kennedy family. Some still can’t get past the returning of the land known as the Panama Canal Zone by President Jimmy Carter. Whatever your politics, forgiveness is the way forward.

The period of Lent makes me think much about Anna Nicole Smith. How cruel we have been toward her!

How we have seen her as nothing but trailer trash (and my dear mother thought she had embraced the American dream when she moved into her new trailer with central air).

Hopefully history will prove our judgments wrong again. History had certainly turned things around for a certain Palestinian woman caught in the very act of adultery by the town’s moral sheriff deputies. Remember the men brought to her to Jesus and asked him what should be done to her? And Jesus simply asked any one of the moral police to cast a first stone if he was without sin. One by one they dropped their stones of judgment and vindictiveness and walked away, leaving the woman to the judgment of Jesus.

Jesus looked at this perhaps Anna type and told her that he didn’t judge her either, but to “go and sin no more.” Because history remembered this account in the life of Jesus and of this woman caught in adultery, we have been able to reflect upon her with compassion.

Yet because we always don’t have the luxury of history with its healing balm, maybe our standard operating process should be to process all of life with compassion, attempting to see others even as Jesus would see them. Perhaps then we would be more kindly concerning all their behavior. Shalom!

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