I heard the Spanish story of a father and son who had become separated. The son had run away from home, and the father set off to find him. He searched for his son for months but to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an advertisement in a newspaper. The advertisement read like this: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father”. On that Saturday, 800 young men named Paco showed up in front of that newspaper office, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.
We are a people who can easily find ourselves at odds with and separated from those who at one time we were close to. Fathers become separated from their sons. Mothers find themselves at odds with their daughters. Friends of long lasting relationships find themselves divided and at odds with one another…. Over the years I have learned that many people live their lives carrying a great deal of hurts. They have hurts from the past that affect them in the present. They have mistakes that they can’t seem to escape from and wounds that can’t seem to overcome. Some have been treated shamefully. Some have treated others shamefully. There are people who were one-time good friends who haven’t talked to each other in years. There are some who have not talked to members of their family because of something that happened in the past.
At some point, we have to decide like that father in the story did, that the time has come to work towards reconciliation. We have to decide whether or not we are going to let things fester or whether we are going to work towards making things right. Nobody in this world likes to admit that they have done something wrong. Every body wants to justify their behaviour, however unrighteous it may be!
Joe was dying, and he wanted to make everything right. He was at odds with Bill, who had been one of his best friends. They hadn’t spoken to each other in years. Wanting to resolve the problem, he asked Bill to visit him. When Bill arrived, Joe told him that he was afraid to go into eternity with bad feelings between them, and he wanted to make things right. Then he reached out for Bill’s hand and said, “I forgive you. Will you forgive me?” Bill said he would, but just as he was leaving, Joe shouted, “But remember, if I get better, this doesn’t count!” We may smile at this story. Yet what a clear picture this gives of the way we sometimes treat one another. The forgiveness we profess is often superficial. It may be prompted by fear, or to gain some selfish advantage-not out of genuine love for God and the one who has wronged us. Yes, we may say we forgive, but when the least little friction arises, we are quick to resurrect past grievances. How different is the forgiveness Jesus talked about!
I heard the story of a man who with tears in his eyes said to his pastor, “I told my wife I was sorry, but she says she won’t continue to live with me. First John1: 9 say that God forgives us when we confess our sins. Please talk to her and tell her that if God forgives, she should too.” The pastor knew that this man had “repented” several times before, only to revert to his abusive behaviour. So the pastor said, “No, I’m not going to tell her that. “In your case, saying ‘I am sorry’ is not enough.” His wife insisted that he receive counselling and give evidence of a genuine change before returning home, she was right. Just saying “I’m sorry” is not enough for God either. The leaders of Israel, in the face of trouble brought on by their sin, thought that merely returning to prescribed sacrificial offerings would solve their problems. But God rejected that kind of “repentance.” Merely saying “I’m sorry” is no different than the empty rituals of the Israelites. God said, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings”. He meant that repentance must result in a change of heart and a change in behaviour.
As we come to the account of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 32 and 33, we come to deal with that very issue-the issue of reconciliation. Jacob was one of these people. He has been separated from his family for twenty years. There is no record that his family came to see him (they might have). But we know that Jacob has not gone back home in this time. In twenty years he has not so much talked to his brother Esau. We find Jacob now returning to Bethel as God had instructed him. His suffering with Laban behind him, he now faces a new challenge- a face-to-face encounter with separated brother Esau. Jacob and Esau have not seen each other in many years. The last time they did, it was not a pleasant departure. Esau’s last words directed to his brother Jacob came through his mother Rebecca when she told Jacob, “Your brother Esau is consoling himself with the thought of killing you”. With those words still ringing in his ears, Jacob is now about to meet his brother face to face. And as he is going on his way, the angels of God meet him, which gave him the reassurance that God was still with him. And with that reassurance he sends his messengers to Esau and prepares to deal with this longstanding separation. Even though Jacob got what was intended for him to have according to God’s plan, Jacob obtained in a way that God very likely did not intend. This scenario in the life of Jacob and Esau is a beautiful example of how reconciliation can be reality in a relationship regardless what caused problem in the first place. If two brothers can be reconciled after being separated in such a damaging way, reconciliation can be a reality for anyone. We need to feel the need of reconciliation and complete dependence up on God are very important essentials that must take place in the process of reconciliation.
Jacob saw the need for Reconciliation. It may surprise us that Jacob is the one who extends the “Olive Branch” to Esau. He could have ignored the situation. He could have avoided Esau for the rest of his life. Some people do that. I suspect this would have been Jacob’s preference. But he could not do that. Why? I think the encounter Jacob had with the “Holy God” made Jacob aware of his need to make things right with his brother. His conscience was awakened and the wrong he did was made clear. It was time to mend the relationship that had been torn through Jacob’s deception. Followers of Christ are driven by God’s spirit to make right, relationships that are wrong. It involves an apology and an act of restoration.
We all have some regrets about the past and try to forget our sins and mistakes. We say, “May be we should think only about today”. Charlie Brown disagreed, “No, that’s giving up. I’m still hoping yesterday will get better.” We know that we can’t change what happened yesterday. But we can learn from yesterday’s sins and mistakes, and with God’s help we can use that knowledge to make a better tomorrow. That’s what John (also called Mark) did. He had started on a missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas, but when they entered Asia Minor he abandoned them and went back home. We’re not told why he left, but the apostle Paul saw it as a shameful desertion. Later, mark became a co-worker with Barnabas. We don’t know the details, but at some point Mark must have changed and reconciled with Paul. When Paul was in prison awaiting execution, he asked Timothy to come and to bring Mark with him. He indicated that Mark was “useful to me for ministry” We cannot erase yesterday, but we can learn from it. When we take our sins and mistakes to the Lord and seek His help, we can have better today and tomorrow.
We all need to live in the present. But what about the mistakes we deeply regret? How can we deal with the past sins and failures that still weigh us down? The memory of our past can rob us of the joy of our salvation. Perhaps we have said or heard others say, ‘if only I could forgive myself for what I have done!” Some people become obsessed with guilt of their past sins. When Joseph made himself known to his brothers who had sold him into slavery, they were speechless and dismayed in his presence. Guilt and fear reminded them of the pain they had caused their aged father Jacob and their brother Joseph. Sensing this, Joseph immediately re-assured them: “Do not… be grieved or angry with yourself because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” When we have sinned and hurt others, we may find ourselves in a position similar to that of Joseph’s brothers. But if we have confessed our sins, we can be assured that we have been forgiven. Oswald Chambers, speaking of the sadness of what might have been, said: “Never be afraid when God brings back the past. Let memory have its way. God will turn the ’might have been’ into a wonderful source of nourishment and growth for the future” God does not want us to be imprisoned by yesterday, but to be free for today and tomorrow.
I have no idea why Euodia and Syntyche were fussing at each other. Knowing human nature, I suppose it was something minor that had put them at odds. Whatever it was, their disagreement had apparently become a distraction to the whole church. What we do know, however, is that unless the women were willing to step forward by apologizing and offering forgiveness, the feud would continue. It was already serious enough to have been called to Paul’s attention. We are not much different even today. I once heard of a church where feuding families sat on opposite sides of the sanctuary. They did not speak to one another and avoided any kind of contact. The issue? They were split on the matter of whether to serve coffee in the lobby or in the church basement! It is sad, but all too many times, we brothers and sisters in Christ have taken sides and waited for months or even years for the other to make the first move for reconciliation and neither has. It’s hard to take that first step. It takes humility and grace. But God, who gives us grace for all things, will enable us to make the first move toward reconciliation. A friend of mine confessed to me that he had lied about me. He then asked for my forgiveness. I told him he was forgiven. He took me at my word, and our relationship has been good ever since.
You must have seen the Municipality truck move slowly down the city daily, pausing at every junction. Full and sometimes overflowing garbage containers are picked up, emptied into the truck, and go back. During the next day, as the rubbish accumulates and the bad odour increases, people become eager for the return of the garbage truck. More disgusting than this is the personal trash that accumulates in our hearts and minds. Some of our garbage-hatred, gossip, bitterness, lust – is obviously foul. But even what looks like good deeds or upright behaviour can stink like garbage if contaminated by our selfish pride.
A meaningful apology can be the first step toward forgiveness. Author Colleen O’Connor says, “The successful apology dissolves anger and humiliation. It shows respect, builds trust, and helps prevent further misunderstanding. A sincere apology makes it much easier to forgive”. Author Barbara Engel says that a true apology depends on the three R’s: regret, responsibility and remedy, which finally lead to reconciliation. As followers of Jesus, we are instructed to forgive others when they repent and are sorry. In the same spirit of humility and love, we must help those who need to forgive us by offering a genuine apology. A sincere apology doesn’t compel others to forgive, but it’s the right thing to do. We must take the first step on the pathway toward the freedom of forgiveness and reconciliation. A heart felt apology can’t change the past, but it can brighten the future.
A Christian woman asked another believer how he was doing. With a broad smile he replied. ”Repenting and rejoicing, sister!” I believe this man was walking in a spirit of repentance- daily confessing and turning from sins and rejoicing in God’s forgiveness. Because honest repentance involves sorrow, we may forget that repenting leads to rejoicing. When we repent, we experience great joy. But if we then choose to live with unconfessed sin, our joy is lost. David believed his joy could be restored. After pouring out his prayer of repentance to God, he made this humble plea: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation”(psalm 51:12) As David turned back to the Lord, his sense of purpose returned: “ Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You”. Through his faith in a forgiving and merciful God, David began rejoicing again in his salvation. We sometimes lose the joy of our salvation because we fail to deal with our sins. If we confess them, God will forgive us and He will restore our joy and help us overcome sins that trouble us. That’s what it means to be a “repenting and rejoicing” Christian.