I have the privilege, and struggle, to preach today, on the 10th anniversary of September 11th, at 3rd Place. The good folks who come up with the weekly Scripture readings for the rhythm of the liturgical year have chosen Matthew 18:21-35 as the central gospel text for today, which is all about the parable of the unmerciful servant who failed to choose mercy over judgment, preferring his way over releasing his debtor in forgiveness. I have been wrecked by God for weeks now over this text, and will have more to say on this tomorrow after I preach…but in thinking through the elements of this text in light of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I really appreciated these thoughts of Jesse Rice (via Jon Huckins):
This September 11th is one of looking back, grieving our losses, celebrating our heroes, and looking forward to what is, hopefully, a better future. It’s been ten years since that awful day. Ten years. In many ways it still feels like it all happened just this morning.
I’d prefer September 11th wasn’t a national holiday, a big arrow on the calendar that reminds me and reminds me and reminds me. I’d prefer there was nothing to debate about what a proper memorial of the Twin Towers should look like, no reason for awkward body scans at the airport, no reason to suspect people who look a certain way or wear a certain article of clothing or practice a certain lifestyle. It’s a terrible thing to walk through life being suspicious, squinty-eyed, afraid. But I guess that’s what you wanted.
Out of my fear and hurt I’ve wanted you to be afraid and to hurt, too. I’ve wanted to smash you, terrify you, eliminate you, no matter what the cost to life and soul.
But ten years later, I don’t want that anymore.
I’m tired of hating. I’m tired of being suspicious. I’m tired of living in fear. It hasn’t brought me any satisfaction, meaning, or peace. It hasn’t done anything to make me feel better or to bring comfort to families who lost loved ones that day. In fact, nurturing my fear and hurt seems to have only added to the problem. It’s multiplied it. Exponentially. And now we’ve lost so many more.
It’s only made the world – my world, your world, the one we share – a darker, uglier place.
And here’s the thing. My son, my very first child, has September 11th, 2011 – the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 – as his due date. And I don’t want him showing up in a world where everyone’s so afraid of each other, where people spend their entire lives working to destroy each other. I don’t want him looking up at me and asking me why I pulled him a little closer when someone who looks different from me (someone who looks more like “them”) walks by. Yes, it’s just that ugly. And I’m sick of it. And I want out. So here’s my out:
I forgive you.
I don’t excuse you. I don’t justify what you’ve done. I don’t forget what’s happened. But I forgive you.
Because you, like me, learned what matters most from those who came before you. And you, like me, were raised to believe certain things about how the world works. And you, like me, are trying your hardest to live as faithfully as you can to what you believe. But especially because you, like me, keep getting it wrong, keep missing the point, keep needing rescue from all this hurt we’ve caused each other.
So this September 11th, my son’s due date, the ten-year anniversary of a terrible, unforgivable tragedy, I choose to forgive you.
And not reluctantly, but wholeheartedly. Not “you stay over there and I’ll stay over here”, but I’ll run to you and embrace you and welcome you into my house and give you something really tasty to eat, and we can talk to each other and listen to each other and maybe, hopefully, our unprecedented, unimagined, but entirely possible friendship can write an entirely new future for our children.
I hope you’ll forgive me, too.
Believing it’s possible,