SEVERAL OF THIS month’s lectionary readings deal with the tensions of navigating wrongdoing, judgment, vengeance, and forgiveness. They call readers to forgive — and forgive again: not just once, twice, or seven times, but at least 77 times and counting (see Matthew 18:22).
These texts have been used throughout history to trap people in positions of disempowerment, abuse, and enslavement. Consider, for example, how victims of intimate partner violence have been pressured to forgive and return to their abusers, who then proceed to hurt them again. Or how entire marginalized communities are expected to “get over it,” whether that is the colonization of Turtle Island, enslavement, or generations of misogynist, queer- and transphobic policies, laws, and violence. In light of the rampant misuse of these texts, we’re right to be wary of biblical interpretations for how to handle conflict that reinforce domination. The texts tend not to deal directly with inherent interpersonal and structural power dynamics. We must do that work ourselves. Any of us preaching the lectionary this month must also be careful.
Attending to the power dynamics of these passages doesn’t mean we dismiss them as useless. Rather, such attention helps us discern how these texts invite and bear witness to God’s presence in processes of interpersonal, intergenerational, and even international healing. They call us to attend to what our own pain has to teach us and to seek hope through community life. And they promise that throughout our attending, God will abide — waiting patiently to see us through.