An Admirable Life-38-Forgiveness

      Buddhists insist that existence (life) is about suffering (dukkha). One commentator suggests that the word dukkha does not mean suffering so much as it expresses how life often just does not fit together well. Her explanation of the mantra "Existence is suffering," is better expressed "Life is awry."

   The writers of the Hebrew Bible wondered how the wicked could prosper while the innocent suffer. So excessive were their feelings about innocent suffering, they changed their definition of righteousness (tzedaqah) during the Late Second Temple/Early Rabbinic Era. For the rabbinic schools most influential on the persons Jesus would have taught, righteousness meant alms-giving, or charitable support of the poor. Righteousness became a consistent act reversing internal egoism (me-first) to achieve superior spiritual status. 

   Jesus understood status as realized activity. When Jesus discussed sin, righteousness and judgment, He consistently stressed forgetfulness of sin, so long as sin was repented actively (yeshuva). Jesus did not recognize salvation (imputed righteousness) as the mere result of some mental acknowledgement of His person. Jesus insisted on a life set right to set the world right.

   In our relationships, Jesus tell us "judge every person on the side of favor," (rachum). Our measurement of others determines how judgment might be applied to us. Mercy is the seed from which forgiveness grows.

   Yet, we are mostly not much good at forgiveness. Grudge bearing is the only weight lifting some of us ever do.

   I want to liken forgiveness to the actions required to learn  new language. To learn a new language on earth is not easy. In fact, it may take half of your intelligence. You may still never master a language other than the one you learned as  a child.

   Still, people do learn new languages, at least in part. How do we learn a language?

   The great language professor at Southwestern Seminary, David Garland, told his Hebrew students one semester, "If I had this class to do over I would teach you more vocabulary than I did." I know he said this that semester because I was there as a student. I adored Dr. Garland and could not imagine how he could make anything better.

   He was right. I wish he had taught us more Hebrew vocabulary.

   When I look at the Semitic/Arabic words translated "compassion" now, I find they all come from a root word meaning "womb." For the vast array of Middle Easterners, "compassion" is "mother love." Since the Ethicists/Spiritual Teachers were mostly men in a paternalistic setting this is an extraordinary revelation. Nor can one imagine the ancient writers derived their image from physical knowledge alone because they lived in a pre-scientific world.

   The Buddhist word for compassion is different. It is the word karuna, which means "to liberate one from grief." If we take the two linguistic expressions for compassion, one is that which occurs naturally to all (womb love) and another which requires action on our part (liberation). Is it not possible both are naturally occuring but also require our actions to make them a part of our daily conversation?

   One ancient Jewish rabbi is quoted as saying, "Repent the day before you die. Since y0u do not know the day you will die, you will need to live in a constant state of repentance."

   I wonder if repentance and forgiveness would not be good "states" in which to reside permanently? The people who taught the people who taught Jesus would have used three words to lead a person to a state of forgiveness; yeshuva, tzedaqah and chesed. The first is repentance, the second righteousness and the last steadfast love/continuing compassion. If a human being repents of his own evil, constantly performing acts of righteusness, how would he not remain in steadfast, enduring compassion?

 

 

Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

 

 

 

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