Forgive. We know this word. We recite it in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our sin, as we forgive…” We hear it in Peter’s generous offer to forgive his enemies 7 times – and Jesus’ ridiculously abundant response: “No, 70 times 7.”
This word (the Greek word is aphete) is also used in a place we do not expect. It’s watered down by most translators to permit, perhaps because, like Peter, they feel permit is generous enough.
Remember the parable of the good seed and the weeds? It goes like this:
A farmer sows wheat seed. In the night, an enemy sows weed seed in the same field. His crop starts to grow, and so do the weeds. His employees are dismayed, and ask if they should go pull out the weeds.
The farmer responds, “No. If you pull up the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat right along with it. Permit it to grow alongside until the harvest, and then we’ll separate it.”
- As an aside: this is terrible practical advice. Anyone who’s planted a garden knows you have to keep it weed-free if you want a harvest. Clearly, it isn’t meant as farming instruction. Though, as literally as some take other parts of the Bible, I wonder that they don’t insist upon this, as well.
Back to the parable. We have understood the parable to mean that error (sin, evil) will be with us until the end, when God will separate good from error. We can – and should – try to remove it, but we won’t be totally successful until God returns.
Except that this isn’t what the parable instructs – AT ALL. First of all, the word we translate permit is aphete. That means, we aren’t supposed to permit the error among us, the error around us, the error within us. We’re supposed to forgive it. To EMBRACE it. Because we’re supposed to understand that when we try to remove it from our midst, we damage each other and ourselves.
Wha-what? No. That can’t be right. God cannot be telling us to allow, embrace, forgive the bad/wrong/evil in our midst. What about accountability? Restitution?
Ummm. Over 2000 years ago, a shadow fell across the ground in a place called Golgotha. It still falls across this page, across my/your life, across the world. This cross-shaped shadow reminds us that sacrifical forgiveness and godly love have been demonstrated to be the Way, and that we are called to live the same Way.
Without sneaking out to the field to pull ‘just a few’ weeds.