Someone sent me Richard Rohr’s Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent for my Lenten journey. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but, in this third week of Lent, Father Rohr’s reflection on a fiery furnace has caught me.
The Scriptures on the Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent deal with two stories: one about some Hebrews being tossed into a furnace and exiting with nary a singed whisker (Daniel 3:25, 34-43), and the other about a generously pardoned servant who turns around and roars at someone who owes him a few dollars (Matthew 18:21-35).
I can relate to this stingy servant! Sometimes it is hard to be merciful, especially toward those who have left their marks on us. I can swiftly forget the generous graces that fill my life when I glimpse someone who has caused me pain and never repented. Before my brain even catches up, the heart flexes tightly and forgiveness buries itself deep down in the clay earth.
After all, Peter was a rather reasonable guy: seven strikes and you’re out. More forgiveness than that, and you begin to feel bruised and abused.
But Jesus’ response to Peter’s reasonable idea blew reasonable out of the water: You must forgive “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Father Richard describes what happens if we don’t put this into practice: “…any refusal to forgive actually destroys and imprisons the very one who refuses!” He goes on to describe the unmerciful one as actually being stuck in the fiery furnace, and “if you do not pray to be released from your unforgiving heart, you will indeed keep burning.”
I remember a story that I read as a twelve-year-old, about Corrie ten Boom, who prayed for this release. Corrie, who during World War II worked in Holland’s underground resistance to the Nazis and was later imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp because of her efforts to hide Jews, went to Germany following the end of World War II where she spoke about forgiveness. At this speaking event, a former concentration camp guard whom Corrie recognized from the camp called Ravensbrück, near Berlin, Germany, where her beloved sister, Betsie, had died, held out his hand and asked Corrie to forgive him. She wrote about the experience in Tramp for the Lord (Jove Books, New York, 1979).
“… I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart…‘…Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’
“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’
“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”
Father Richard suggests that we pray, just as Corrie prayed, “Help!” While the three Hebrews did just that, Christ entered their furnace, and so he will enter ours.
Oh God, I do want to live inside the wondrous loop of your forgiveness and mercy. This Lenten season, will you help me to lift my hand and touch the one I can’t forgive?
What did it feel like when you forgave someone or someone forgave you?
Sarah Fusté is currently codirector with her husband of a retreat house in Michigan called Still Waters. She enjoyed learning from Father Richard Rohr during an internship at the Center for Action and Contemplation in 2007-2008. Most of her days are filled with the joy of parenting a spirited toddler.