As you know, all of Christianity is wrapped around this idea of forgiveness–even non-Christians know that Jesus’ death was for the forgiveness of sins. But really, the Christian idea of forgiveness goes much deeper than that. Suppose you’re standing at the gate of Heaven and see someone sitting at the banquet table who you would not sit next to, or whom you have a grudge, or even who you suspect has a grudge against you. You might need to step away and find that person and reconcile. You can’t sit at the banquet table and bring your dispute (or even so much as an awkward silence) to such a celebration. Because there will be no rivalry, no bitterness in Heaven–there won’t even be such a thing as one person disliking another. We will see each other for who we were made to be–unique, loving individuals.
So, haste should be made in reaching mutual reconciliation: Matthew 5:23-24.
Matthew 18:21-35 takes this even further, and after that last sentence of Jesus’ wisdom, one has to wonder: is a prerequisite to our entrance into Heaven the complete forgiveness to those who have wronged us?
But it’s fairly obvious: how can one enter into Heaven without a heart like Christ’s: that heart of Christ’s which would die for the betrayals and backstabbings of billions of selfish human beings? How would you sit at the banquet table if Jesus asked you to sit next to the one whom you dislike–or perhaps have more deeply-rooted feelings than a shallow disliking? God knows your heart better than you do. If, right now, you can think of a person whom you wouldn’t talk to or sit by at Heaven’s banquet table, then you might not be ready for Heaven’s banquet table.
But I don’t know who will be there. Only God has the guest list. You may find yourself surprised at who you see. But the best way to be prepared is to forgive those who have wronged you, seek forgiveness for your wrongs, and do everything in your power to bridge each relationship in your life with the openness, trust, and love that Christ gives us–we are called to imitate him, after all.
Love, love, love your enemies–whether they deserve it or not. It is the only way to reconcile with them. If you can think of a single person you dislike, distrust, or would rather not talk to, then you had better talk to them. Be honest. And prepare yourself to become that person’s best friend–just as Christ became our very best friend.
Many years ago, a mentor of mine once told me: “Imitating Christ is like this: that every time you meet a new person, from the moment you shake their hand, your heart, mind, and will are prepared to become that person’s best friend. Whether that person is cruel, rude, needy, disabled, dishonest, or simply plain and uninteresting, none of that matters. What matters is that your love for them transcends prejudices, judgments, and wrongdoing.”
So: love your enemies. Love strangers. Love everyone. God called everyone into an eternal and substantive friendship with him; so, choose everyone for friendship with you.