In old Roman ruins, archaeologists have discovered lots of ancient prayers that people would actually pay to have written down and then stored. They are now called curse tablets because the most common kind of prayer recorded on them, by far, are curses.
People would address a god or goddess and say, “This person hurt me, and here’s how they hurt me, and I want payback. I want you to hurt them, inflict pain on them, and here is how I want you to do that.”
Here is actually one found in Rome: “I invoke you, holy angels and holy names, tie up, block, strike, overthrow, harm, destroy, kill, and shatter Eucherios, the charioteer, and all of his horses, tomorrow in the arena of Rome. Let the starting gates not open properly. Let him not compete quickly. Let him not pass. Let him not make the turn properly. Let him not receive the honours. Let him not squeeze over and overpower. Let him not come from behind and pass, but instead, let him collapse. Let him be bound. Let him be broken up. And let him drag behind…both in the early races and in the later ones.”
This is how prayers used to be prayed and the Bible is not exempt Just look at some of the petitions in the psalms and the desire for revenge on the enemies of Israel. So, that is how the ancient world was wired. Until there came a carpenter who, 2000 years ago, laid a foundation that would change the world. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.'” They all heard that. “But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Today we pray the words that roll off our tongues “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.
If we don’t, we carry the heavy burden that is unforgiveness. This burden can consume us and define us and rob us of life.
As Henri Nouwen writes: “To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, “I no longer hold your offense against you” But there is more. We also free ourselves from the burden of being the “offended one.” As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, worse, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God.”
A great website to see the power of forgiveness is that of the Forgiveness Project. One of the stories featured (and some will make you cry) is the powerful story of Mary Johnson: In February 1993, Mary’s son, Laramiun Byrd, was shot dead during an argument at a party. He was 20, and Mary’s only child. The killer was a 16-year-old kid named Oshea Israel. Mary wanted justice. “He was an animal. He deserved to be caged.” And he was. Tried as an adult and sentenced to 25 and a half years – Oshea served 17 before being released recently. He now lives back in the old neighborhood, close to Mary. How a convicted murderer ended up living a door away from his victim’s mother is a story not of horrible misfortune, as you might expect, but of remarkable mercy. A few years ago Mary asked if she could meet Oshea at Minnesota’s Stillwater state prison. As a devout Christian she felt compelled to see if there was some way, somehow, she could forgive her son’s killer. She went to the prison and came face to face with him. It was hard but they began the journey to forgiveness – for to forgive is not to forget, condone, excuse, tolerate, or overlook; it means to choose the way of love over the way of hate. The way of love might be painful. It might not always be doing what the other person wants me to do, but there will be a way of love.
They continued to meet in prison regularly. When he got out, she introduced him to her landlord who, with Mary’s blessing, invited Oshea to move into the building. Today they don’t just live close; they are close. Clearly, Mary was able to forgive. “Unforgiveness is like cancer,” Mary says. “It will eat you from the inside out. It’s not about that other person, me forgiving him does not diminish what he’s done. Yes, he murdered my son, but the forgiveness is for me. It’s for me.”
The power of forgiveness – remembering that we too have been forgiven – is the message we, as the church, can take into communities and help heal them.
In our novena of prayer for evangelization, please join us in praying for the area of Pound Hill to the north of Worth Park Avenue/A2220 and south of Crawley Avenue/A2011 and for Milton Mount Primary School, its headteacher (Anne Holmes), staff, pupils and Governors.