AN AMAZING FACT: In 1961, 21-year-old civil rights activist John Lewis got off a bus in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Upon entering a “whites only” waiting room, he was attacked and beaten bloody by a young white man named Elwin Wilson. Years later, the two met in person and Wilson apologized for his actions. Lewis responded, “I forgive you. I don’t have any ill feelings, any bitterness, any malice.”
The atmosphere in the southern United States during the Civil Rights movement was full of explosive tension. As the movement for racial equality gained momentum, non-violent demonstrations were often met with violence and even death. Young John Lewis, who would later become a senator, survived more than one brutal attack. But this situation ended differently, with resolution and forgiveness. Wilson apologized, reporting that he had found the Lord and recognized his wrong; Lewis described it as a moment of grace and forgiveness, representing what the struggle was about.
In Matthew, Jesus shares a story with His disciples about an ungrateful servant who, after having been forgiven of his debts, went after a fellow servant who owed him a small sum and threw him in prison. The angry master sent the first servant back to prison. Jesus told the disciples, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
John Lewis made that difficult choice. Rather than harboring anger for how unjustly he had been treated, he chose to forgive from his heart. We might not have experienced a violent physical attack, but most of us have been wronged in some way. Will we choose to forgive?
KEY BIBLE TEXTS
Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. Matthew 18:32-35