Last year a video emerged of Brandt Jean, forgiving the former police officer who shot and killed his unarmed older brother Botham Jean. The astounding forgiveness that the 18-year-old offered was both widely praised and vehemently protested. Violence like that against Botham Jean is repeatedly committed by white people without any admission of guilt, remorse, or true repentance by the attackers. Many empathized with Brandt as a grieving family member who sought to honor his brother’s Christian faith by offering forgiveness to the shooter. Yet many were frustrated by the way his individual forgiveness was used to try to guilt black people who have not offered forgiveness to the white individuals and institutions which oppress and abuse them.
Are those who protested Jean’s act of forgiveness, or the way that moment was used, wrong to feel angry? I think not. Bonhoeffer wrote, “forgiveness without repentance is cheap grace.” The parallel text of today’s Scripture in Luke 17:4 says that when a person repents, we must forgive: “Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” The question I want to ask is what should we do when the offender does not repent? Can true forgiveness exist without repentance? Is repentance genuine without sincere, humble efforts to make amends to those we wronged?
I can’t answer those questions for us. But I’m so glad that we have a Savior who forgives, who died for all though we sin repeatedly, and even fail at times to repent.
Do we forgive as Christ forgives us? How does God help us when we’re unsure how to respond? Who have I hurt and need to make amends with?
God, thank you for forgiving our many sins. Teach us your love. Amen.