The other day I was walking around the neighborhood and saw the coolest thing. I was looking down at my phone and looked up just in time to see a hawk catch a little bird in the air. I’ve never seen anything like it, at least in person. The hawk was laser-focused on the bird; every move the bird made, the hawk made the same move in almost the same instant, but the hawk was going a lot faster. In less than a
second, it was over, and I just stood there wondering whether I’d really seen what I thought I saw. Meanwhile, the hawk flew off nonchalantly, as if this sort of thing happened every day (which, for the hawk, it probably does). I could practically hear Elton John in the background singing “Circle of Life.” It was awesome.
This week, I’m working on a sermon about forgiveness. This is one of those subjects that’s a lot easier to talk about in the abstract than concretely. Most of us agree forgiveness is a good thing and that we should do it. In particular, we believe other people should do it for us. But it gets pretty hard pretty quickly when we start applying the idea of forgiveness to those who have wronged us.
Which makes me think of that hawk. Some of us can get pretty laser-focused when we think we’ve been wronged. For instance, I used to be a jerk driver (Kirsten might take issue with the “used to” part of that sentence). If someone cut me off in traffic, didn’t let me merge when I thought I was entitled, changed lanes suddenly without signaling, or any number of other serious infractions against my honor and dignity, they would become the center of my world for as long as it took to make sure they felt the sting of my displeasure. Sometimes I’d speed up and cut them off. Sometimes I’d hover around, waiting until they needed to change lanes and then not let them in (I’m not proud of any of this). But often, it took the form of tailgating. I would actually picture myself sort of like that hawk, locked in with laser focus with an important mission to accomplish, shadowing every move the other driver made.
But in looking back wistfully on those bygone days, I realize that there are some differences between me and that hawk. For the hawk, it was just business. It’s what he was made to do. It was survival. The hawk didn’t have anything against that little bird, it just needed to eat.
For me, it was something different. I didn’t need to do it in the same way the hawk did. My survival didn’t depend on it. In fact, even as I was doing it, I realized it was silly. But I couldn’t help it. Something in me just wouldn’t let it go.
This is, of course, a trivial example. There are lots of non-trivial examples of the same thing in our everyday lives. We do the same thing as individuals when we cut off family or friends for perceived slights. We do it within our communities when we refuse to let go of our suspicion and hatred of those who we perceive to be different from us (without even trying to figure out if they really ARE different).
And in this, we are different from the hawk, because for us, it’s not just business. This isn’t what we were created for. We were created for forgiveness. Now, there are lots of reasons we should forgive those who we perceive to have offended us. For one thing, as long as we don’t forgive them, we’re allowing them to live rent-free in our heads. They may not even know what they’ve done (notice, I keep saying “perceive”). We may not even exist to them, but to us, they become the center of our world. And there are lots of other, practical reasons we should forgive.
But for us Christians, there’s one really big one: we’ve been forgiven. There’s a story in the Bible about a servant whose master forgave his unimaginably huge debt, but instead of changing his life in response, the servant immediately demanded repayment of a much smaller debt that someone owed him. The point of that story is that we’re the servant. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God has paid off a debt we could never ever in a million years pay off on our own. Despite the fact that we continually put our own interests before God and others, we now have access to eternal life, life lived eternally in the presence of God, life that starts right now and goes on for eternity, the sort of life we were created to live. And if we really believe that last sentence, then how could we not seek to change our lives to live out that same sort of forgiveness. Having experienced that forgiveness for ourselves, how could we not revel in it and extend it to everyone around us, even the jerks who won’t let us merge.
That moment when that hawk chased and caught that bird was a work of art. I don’t know if I’ll ever forget it. But that’s not me. Or, at least, it’s not the me I want to be.