Forgive us our trespasses

 

Dear Friends

Simon Wiesenthal lost 89 relatives in Hitler’s death camps. He has devoted his life to finding Nazi criminals and bringing them to justice. He is often asked when he will give up. After all, he is hunting down men in their 70’s and 80’s for crimes committed half a century ago.

Wiesenthal answered by writing a book. The book begins with a true experience he had while he himself was a concentration camp prisoner. One day he was yanked out of a work detail and taken up a back stairway to a dark hospital room. A nurse led him into the room, then left him alone with a figure wrapped in white, lying on a bed. The figure was a badly wounded German soldier, whose entire face was covered with bandages. His name was Karl.

With a trembling voice, the German made a kind of confession to Wiesenthal. He told how he had been brought up in a Nazi family, the fighting he had experienced on the Russian front, and the brutal measures his S.S. unit had taken against Jews. And then he told of a terrible atrocity.

All the Jews in a town were herded into a wooden building that was then set on fire. Karl had taken an active part in the crime. Several times Wiesenthal tried to leave the room, but each time the ghost-like figure would reach out and beg him to stay. Finally, after 2 hours, Karl told Wiesenthal why he had been summoned.

The soldier had asked a nurse if any Jews still existed. If so, he wanted one brought to his room so he could clear his conscience. He then said to Wiesenthal -"I am left here with my guilt. I do not know who you are, I know only that you are a Jew and that is enough. I know that what I am asking is almost too much for you. But without your answer I cannot die in peace." Karl asked for forgiveness for all the Jews he had killed. He asked for forgiveness, from a man who might soon die. Wiesenthal sat in silence for some time. He stared at the man’s bandaged face. At last, without saying a word, he stood up and left the room. He left the soldier in torment, unforgiven. 

Had Simon Wiesenthal done the best he could? He himself seemed dissatisfied with his action. He went over it with his companions. He visited the dead soldier’s mother.

In his book, he asks 32 rabbis, Christian theologians, and secular philosophers to comment on it. "What would YOU have done?" is the question he posed. Out of 32 people he asked, the majority said he had done right in leaving the soldier unforgiven. Only 6 said he had done wrong. Yet the Bible says we have the privilege of granting forgiveness to those who have wronged us.”

Today, as we conclude our sermon series on the life of Joseph, we see that Joseph gives us a model for forgiveness. The past had shattered Joseph’s ability to trust his brothers. In order to trust his brothers, Joseph needed to know and believe two things – that they were telling him the whole truth and that they were truly sorry for what they had done.

You will remember that in the previous chapter (Genesis 44) Benjamin had been accused of stealing Joseph’s silver cup and Judah was pleading for mercy. Judah and his brothers are anxiously awaiting a verdict from Joseph, one that will determine the course of the rest of their lives. 

Dr. David Seaman’s in “Healing for Damaged Emotions” says, “The two primary causes of emotional stress are the failure to forgive and the failure to receive forgiveness.” David Seaman. ‘Healing for Damaged Emotions’. (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1981). 

God’s free gift to us 

This month we will be journeying once again towards the great and central truths of our faith as we approach Good Friday and Easter Day. We remind ourselves of the sacrifice that God has made in Jesus to rescue us from an existence separated from love. We will celebrate the free offer of forgiveness held out to us by Jesus, made possible by paying the price of our sin on the cross. We will rejoice at the freedom that forgiveness brings us and the new life offered to all who put their trust and confidence in Him. 

As we continue through Lent and journey towards Easter lets keep these central themes in mind as we enter in to all that this wonderful season of our faith offers us.

‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’.

With every blessing in Christ

Stephen