With few exceptions, a person should not be judged by their past. When we do this, either individually or as a society, we are not only unduly labelling someone, but are placing them in a position where doors are closed to them. We are making life hard for them. We are saying to them, “you will be no better than what you once were.” We are saying to them, “there is no hope for you, no redemption.” We are shouting, “you are beneath us and will never be us.”
The world is neither run by nor altogether populated by perfect people. Were that the case, there would have been no need for Jesus Christ to have come into the world.
Many people, myself included, have overcome some of the most significant hurdles in life. For me, these hurdles started as being self-imposed. Today, they seem to be societal. No matter how far I’ve come, no matter how much I’ve grown, to some, I will always be judged by the worst point in my life.
When we pigeonhole someone to that one place in their past, we are telling them that they do not matter. We are telling them that the penance they paid was not enough. We are telling them that we, personally, or as a segment of society, demand more from them in the way of punishment than what has been decreased and served.
In the United States, we tend to see individuals who have done wrong, broken the law, transgressed the limits imposed by society as somehow less than us. We want to see them as being outside. We want to sit, in the comfort of our homes, and believe that they have been incarcerated, fined, placed on probation to receive punishment, not as a punishment.
“The system didn’t punish them enough,” one group screams. “It is up to us to destroy any hope they have!”
We then create the “us vs them” world view. “We” cannot have “them” in our neighbourhood because of (and you can fill in the blank here). The “us,” the “we” can never see the other as equal, because of what they’ve done, regardless of the price they’ve paid, or the work they’ve done to make right the wrongs they’ve committed.
There is, however, another ugly side to this “us vs them” coin. We, as a society, will pick and choose a token from the “them” group and hold them above all others. Or we will take someone, a movie star, or a politician, and excuse them of their wrongs because they make a seemingly significant contribution to society, sports, or their constituents.
We, as a society, need to stop the division. We need to stop the “us vs them” rhetoric, especially when we strive to follow Jesus Christ and what he said to us when teaching us to pray.
Christ’s most famous injunction regarding forgiveness is found in the Our Father: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12 — and it is debts in Greek though the standard English translation uses the word trespasses).
To make sure we get the point, Jesus singles this petition out for unique commentary: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14–15).
“Oh,” they say, “Jesus loves you, God forgives you, but we, as humans, will judge you until the end of time.”
When does that judgement, and the punishment it carries, end? When is enough actually enough?
Jesus’ teaching and actions should have a massive influence on our perspectives of ethical issues. In the case of punishment, Jesus is repeatedly shown to look beyond what people have done and offer mercy to them.
Mercy is a “love that responds to human need in an unexpected or unmerited way.” At its core, mercy is forgiveness.
The “we” group seems to find comfort in mercy. They find joy in mercy. As the “us” group proclaims that mercy and forgiveness is a gift for, they also withhold it from those in most need of mercy and forgiveness.
The “we” group willingly seems to withhold the second chance afforded by mercy and forgiveness from those who need it the most. Then, they sit back and scratch their heads when someone from the “them” group screams out in protest, “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME! I PAID THE PRICE!”
Christ paid the price for all of us.
Do we deny the mercy and forgiveness granted unto us by G-d through the Grace of the Cross?
Makes me wonder? It makes me wonder.