“Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them … whose sins you retain are retained.” Donna had been violated and she couldn’t forget; no, she wouldn’t forget. She thought about it first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and if there was a moment during the day when she had nothing else to think about she thought about it then, too. True, the perpetrator had been caught and was now sitting in prison, but that didn’t make Donna feel any better. It just became something else to think about. Justice may have been served, but Donna had found no peace.
The first thing Jesus said to his disciples when he came to them in their locked room was “Peace be with you,” because he knew that the power to decide whether or not someone’s sins should be forgiven carried with it an awesome responsibility. He spoke first of peace and only later of sin and forgiveness. The disciples were afraid. The Romans had brought about the death of their friend and Lord and now their own lives were in danger. They couldn’t — wouldn’t — forget what these people had done, and there was no peace in them.
Perhaps that’s even what they were talking about behind those locked doors. Maybe that’s why, when “Jesus came and stood in their midst …” the first thing he did was wish them peace. Jesus, who had been so grievously violated, was sending them out to seek, not justice, but peace. And since he knew that no one can be at peace within themselves as long as they continue to hold another’s sins against them, he entrusted to them the power to decide which to forgive and which to retain. Then Jesus breathed the power of the Holy Spirit into them to guide them.
Donna is working with a counselor now, trying to find some peace. And while it hasn’t always been easy, she’s finding that, as it was for the disciples before her, sometimes the gift of peace comes only when we decide to forgive — rather than to retain — the sins of the other.
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.