Nocturne in the Key of Life (A Valentine Message)
By S M Chen, posted Feb 18, 2016 by Debbonnaire Kovacs.
“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” – Mark Twain
Forgiveness figures heavily in the ethos of Christianity.
On the cross, some of Christ’s last words were: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
To whom was He referring?
Perhaps the Roman soldiers, who carried out orders to crucify. Only after the fact did some realize the enormity of what they had done. Upon experiencing the earthquake that immediately followed Christ’s death, a centurion declared, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
Perhaps Pilate. Politically motivated Pilate, who, despite finding Jesus innocent of the crimes with which He was charged, in an effort to appease the Jews and maintain power, condemned Him, then publicly washed his hands.
Perhaps the Jewish leaders. The chief priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees, who hated Jesus from early on because He exposed their hypocrisy and wickedness, were the prime movers in the plot to destroy Him.
Perhaps you and I. For, while He made the cross reality, we made it necessary.
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you” – C S Lewis.
We do not know if Christ’s request for forgiveness of his enemies was granted, and may only someday learn.
Many of the above named likely went to their graves as they were recorded to have lived, and will constitute the figurative goats, on the left hand of the Almighty in the Judgment.
However, it is conceivable that some, after the crucifixion, in the vernacular of Robert Heinlein’s 1961 work, Stranger in a Strange Land, “grokked” (understood profoundly and intuitively) life and its meaning. If they, having grasped the gift of the cross, acted upon it, they may well be among the figurative sheep, on the right hand of the Almighty, come Judgment.
Of the seven deadly sins, the roots of pride probably grow deepest. It is likely the most difficult of the sins to eradicate. One reason it is so inimical is because it blinds its indulger, in a manner both insidious and inexorable, to reality.
The 1878 opera “H M S Pinafore,” by Gilbert & Sullivan, contains these lines: “Things are seldom as they seem; skim milk masquerades as cream.”
To me, one of the appeals of Christ’s revolutionary life and ministry is the concept of reciprocity, of inversion. He turned things on their head, upside down, counter to conventional thinking.
It was not the religious leaders (Pharisees and Sadducees) who were closest to the Kingdom; it was the sinners, the prostitutes, the moral lepers.
It was not the obviously affluent who were truly rich; it was the widow with two mites.
In order to gain one’s life, one must lose it. If one sought to gain it, one would lose it.
The first shall be last, and the last first.
Yet even pride does not reside in a place unreachable by the Almighty’s long arm of forgiveness (although it comes close).
And, as richly imagined by poet Francis Thompson in “The Hound of Heaven,” He pursues man without relent, with the intent of redemption and restoration.
Only the final closure of eyes and life end that pursuit. Or the final closure of heart and mind to that still small voice.
Stephen is recorded in the book of Acts to have been the victim of a sham religious trial presided over by men who, whatever else they were, possessed pride. As he was being stoned, he caught a glimpse of heaven. Some of his dying words were, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”
Were they forgiven, as Stephen asked? We are not told.
What we are told is that Saul was there, tending the garments of those who cast the stones. Was he as guilty as they?
I believe that witnessing the manner in which Stephen died made a crucial impact on Saul, who went on, as Paul, to become one of the giants of early Christendom. His writings constitute a significant portion of the New Testament. By the end of his rich and productive life (with no little irony, he also died a martyr), he had “grokked” the life of Jesus and its terminus at the cross.
It took a catastrophic event on the road to Damascus to change Saul from zealous persecutor to zealous apostle.
Many of us have a road to Damascus epiphany. It may not be as dramatic as the blindness with which Saul was smitten, but it is an epiphany nonetheless. We may only recognize it in retrospect (bringing to mind the observation of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard that “one of the difficulties of life is that it can only be properly understood in retrospect, but it must be lived in prospect”).
For the penitent thief on the cross next to Christ’s, it was the recognition that the Man in the middle was no ordinary man.
For John Newton, slave ship captain, later prolific hymn writer and clergyman, it was a storm at sea.
For King Lear (for surely art recapitulates life, great art even more so), it was the realization, after his madness near the end of the tragic play, that banished youngest daughter Cordelia was the one of his three who truly loved him.
Holy Writ is replete with examples of the love of the Almighty for man. It is that love which underpins forgiveness, and the epiphanies—small and not so—that are intended to lead us back into the fold, through the eye of the needle, to the path that leads not to darkness and destruction, but to light—and life.
This is the ultimate Valentine message: be Mine.