As I mentioned in my first article in this series, I engaged in a personal Bible study, in the fall of 2007, with a brother who was struggling with failing health and difficult medical challenges. He also needed encouragement to faithfulness after a strained relationship with a brother whom he felt had wronged him. I suggested that we meet for a weekly Bible study, using Max Lucado’s book, Just Like Jesus as a guide for our discussions.
Chapter 2 of Lucado’s book gets right to the heart of one of the things that was troubling my brother.
Lucado tells a story to illustrate how a relationship that began as warm and caring can culminate in one that leaves us feeling “stuck with” another person. He tells of the time he asked his Mom and Dad for a puppy, promising to be the dog’s caretaker. In the beginning, Max was very committed to the task, but over time, he regretted that promise. He says that our relationships with people can be like that. But the resource for staying clear of that trap is a forgiving heart. If we love the way Jesus did, we will love the people we are “stuck with.” Jesus had a forgiving heart. Lucado says that individuals cope with “stuckitis” in one of three ways: they flee, they fight or they forgive.
Jesus “put up” with those with whom he associated. “Not only did he have to put up with their physical oddities, he had to endure their invisible foibles…. Was it hard for Jesus to love Peter, knowing Peter would someday curse him? Was it tough to trust Thomas, knowing Thomas would one day question Jesus’ resurrection (p. 16).” Truly, Jesus showed time and again that he had a HEART OF FORGIVENESS.
As Jesus washes the feet of his disciples in Jn. 13, he included even his betrayer. “What a passionate moment when Jesus silently lifts the feet of his betrayer and washes them in the basin! Within hours the feet of Judas, cleansed by the kindness of the one he will betray, will stand in Caiaphas’s court.” Jesus “forgave their sin before they even committed it. He offered mercy before they even sought it (pp. 18-19).”
We can learn by Jesus example and forgive others. He says, “Try shifting your glance away from the one who hurt you and setting your eye on the one who saved you…. Because he lives in us, you and I can do the same. Because he has forgiven us, we can forgive others. Because he has a forgiving heart, we can have a forgiving heart. We can have a heart like his.” (p. 19-20)
I think that one of the most important points in this chapter is in the following statement made on page 20, “Jesus washes our feet for two reasons. The first is to give us mercy; the second is to give us a message. And that message is simply this: Jesus offers unconditional grace; we are to offer unconditional grace.”
And then he points out how giving unconditional grace will help bring an end to a schism in a relationship. He says, “The genius of Jesus’ example is that the burden of the bridge-building falls on the strong one, not on the weak one. The one who is innocent is the one who makes the gesture. And you know what happens? More often than not, if the one in the right volunteers to wash the feet of the one in the wrong, both parties get on their knees…. Relationships don’t thrive because the guilty are punished but because the innocent are merciful.”
I love his concluding thought of the chapter, “Certain conflicts can be resolved only with a basin of water. Are any relationships in your world thirsty for mercy?”
As I discussed these points candidly with my brother, I had to admit to him that I have a tendency to flee from situations that I cannot resolve quickly, so this lesson hit home to me. I told my brother that this lesson teaches me that I need patience to work out conflicts when they occur and that in many cases, I must be the one to apologize or to make the first move to heal the break in the relationship. Sometimes I have felt like fleeing or fighting rather than forgiving. How about you?
As I thought about how others view me, I concluded that the people that work for me may sometimes find it hard to know what I am thinking because I am pretty quiet and reserved. I keep to myself a lot and am not at ease in large social settings. I am an introvert and I prefer one-on-one relationships. I think many are drawn to people who are of their same personality types. I have known people in my life who I have termed “kindred spirits.”
When I think of someone who “washed my feet” when I didn’t deserve it, I remember an occasion when I said something that was extremely hurtful to Linda. I can’t right now remember the circumstances but it made her cry. She was willing to forgive me and to move on.
I shared with my brother that I have sometimes judged the motives behind the actions of my brethren without giving them a chance to address those things. I have sometimes questioned the way we did things in the local congregations, where I was a member. In such cases I talked about it with Linda but I did not tells the elders and give them elders the opportunity to discuss the issue with me.
The study that began with this brother in October 2007, continued several weeks, as we met on Sunday evenings after service. As I shared with him, and he with me, we found ourselves strengthening our personal resolve to be more like Jesus in our love for others. I could see the influence of the compassionate, loving Jesus beginning to have its impact upon him as our study progressed.