Have you ever found yourself in a thought-loop unable to get your mind on something else? Really its worse than the time I was unable to find my way out of Oklahoma City. Around and around I drove for what seemed like an eternity trying to find the way out of that city and head back towards Fort Worth. I was trying to leave but couldn’t find the way.
The problem with a grudge though, is that we aren’t trying to leave. We harbour, nurse, feed our offendedness with rationalistic reasons for why we are right to feel the way we do and to keep holding onto it. Before we know it a root of bitterness and resentment has turned into a habitual way of relating in relationships making us over-sensitive, proud, and very self-righteous. I know, I’ve been there.
As we have been reading through Mark in our journey with Jesus at Cityview I have been surprised at the way Mark correlates Jesus’ teaching with Jesus’ activity. This pattern is evident in the text associated with Palm Sunday.
A. Jesus enter Jersusalem as a triumphant king and proceeds to the temple where he looks around. Mark 11:1-11
B. The next day, Jesus examines a fig tree for fruit, and finding none, judges it. 11:1-17
C. Jesus returns to the Temple and clears the Court of Gentiles, and announces that the redemptive purpose of the temple is not being fulfilled: Is it not written, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?” But you have made it a ‘den of robbers.’ Mark 11:13-19
D. The chief priests and teachers are deeply offended and begin to seek in earnest a way to get rid of Jesus.
E. The Disciples observe the withered fig tree and Peter is astonished.
E. Jesus addresses two concerns He has for the Disciples:
1. Faith-full prayer/conversation with God.
2. Forgiveness in prayer of any people with whom they might hold an offense.
I believe Jesus recognizes a challenge for the disciples that will keep them from realizing their full redemptive potential in His Kingdom. In the course of the ministry with Him, Jesus’ disciples will run into confrontations with people. The Kingdom of God and the Gospel of Jesus confronts what is wrong in the world: unbelief, abandonment to the flesh, idolatry, misuse of God’s gifts, and the abuse of people. The disciples had just accompanied Jesus on such a foray and I believe it would have been easy for them to hold “something” against the people who were now planning Jesus’ death.
An enemy thinks the world would be a better place without you. And clearly these enemies of Jesus were headed down that path. However, Jesus would have nothing to do with holding a grudge, planting bitterness, and nursing resentment.
In the future, these disciples of Jesus confronting a world of unbelief and opposition at times to the Gospel would discover that the world would not change as quickly as they might have hoped. The now-but-not-yet nature of the Kingdom of God meant that they must look forward with faith in a good God who does complete what He says that he would complete. Even Israel in celebration of the Passover where called out in this week to persist in their faith that God would prevail. They must not retreat into despair or un-believing doubting prayer. I do not believe the issue here is whether or not the disciples believed God could do something miraculous. The real issue was in doubting the fundamental nature of God as one who cares. Faith-full believing prayer maintains the revealed character of God in His Word as fundamentally good. It is this quiet confidence and faith then that allows us to engage the sovereignty of God with faith in prayer. His “no,” “yes,” or “wait” can be accepted and trusted.
And it is this observation that brings us to the first problem with a grudge. We want to believe that a grudge or resentment is first and foremost a problem between me and the person, or me and the company, or me and that race of people, or me and individual in the past. But Jesus makes a grudge or sensitive offendedness to a first and foremost a problem between me and God.
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25
The first problem with a grudge toward a person is that it is a problem between me and God. If I am holding something against another person and believing that they owe me, it is a problem between me and God. And it is such a problem that I will not be able to fulfill the full redemptive purpose of God for my life. Jesus tells me that God refuses to bless this course of action in my interior world. A grudge will cause me to be as lifeless and fruitless as the fig tree Jesus examined the day before this teaching. A grudge will cause me to be as cluttered, busy, and void of the redemptive purposes of God as Israel was in the Court of the Gentiles. A grudge, you see, is actually an persistent act of unbelief and treats the Gospel of Jesus’ grace, God’s unmerited choosing, as something small, trite, and of little consequence. God will not bless grudge keeping, bitterness, and nursed resentments. Unforgiveness keeps me from fulfilling the redemptive purposes of God and limits my generosity, kindness, compassion, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, joy, peace, self-control, and love.
What to do?
Well we can’t wait to forgive until the other person changes. To pray is to change. If I am in conversation with God I am the one called to forgive. Choose over and over to say, “This person owes me nothing.” I entrust them to God. I entrust myself to God’s grace in the Gospel of Jesus. God has abundantly blessed me…I can afford to extend such grace to others…even to others who wish ill of me. Jesus has shown us how, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Our challenge is that because most of us who are habitually confronted with our ability to keep a grudge rarely enter into that pain because of our commitment to Jesus’ mission, we fail to make the connection between grudges, grace, and our experience of God’s power. Our experience of such pain derives mostly from unmetabolized pain in our past and/or from the irritants that accompany daily relationships common to us all.
When we stand praying and God reminds us of a offense we are holding onto, he is inviting us to a new level of living and relationship in the Kingdom of His Son, Jesus Christ.
It is possible that unforgiveness can become such a mountain in our soul that we are not sure we will ever be free of it. The 70 times 7 challenges to forgiveness have shown me that forgiveness is sometimes a process of growth and experience of Jesus grace. Thankfulness for the other person(s), Surrender of myself to God, Interecssion for God to bless the other person(s), and then finally imagining what the full redemptive work of Jesus’ grace could look like. On the later, let me paint the picture I have: Seated at the banquet table of heaven we raise our glasses to toast Jesus, the King of Kings, but instead he begins to toast us…he makes his way to me and blesses me, toasts me, welcomes me to His table as a loved and cherished son…a tear slips down me cheek and Jesus reaches out to wipe it away…I turn away and find that beside me is one who was an enemy, recognition crosses our eyes in an instant, and all I can think to say is, “Jesus is awesome isn’t He?”