As our country continues to remember one of the most primitive crimes committed against humanity during the genocide against the Tusti, sixteen years ago, we are at the same time learning a saintly lesson on forgiveness and mercy.
During the week of remembrance, most of us were so shocked to hear impoverished survivors of genocide standing in a very sorry state and dare say they have forgiven all those responsible for the merciless murder of their dear ones, hence responsible as well for the state in which they are to spend the rest of their life.
These people, with their own life do teach us what Shakespeare, the most famous English author put in his verses through Portia in ‘The Merchant of Venice’.
For him, forgiveness and mercy are above all attributes to God. He goes on to say that it is beneficial to both parties, forgiving and forgiven.
And when it happens, it gives meaning to justice: “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven… It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God’s - When mercy seasons justice.”
Luke 23:34 tells us that after being arrested, scourged, beaten, spat on and mocked, these were the words spoken by Jesus while suspended painfully on a splintering wooden cross, naked, and dying: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Unless the genocide survivors constantly try to imitate Jesus on the cross, it is hard to imagine where else they can get the courage to forgive.
Jesus must have said this to God as he looked down with sad eyes on all the people before him who have gathered to gawk, some shaking their heads, some shouting at him, and some weeping, but none understanding what was really happening in front of them. Jesus was doing this with a broken heart.
It must not have been easy for him to plead with God to forgive mankind, at a certain point he must have remembered the mob of people yelling and cursing him.
Genocide survivors are often forced to clench their fist and teeth and that is quite human given all they have gone through. It is hard to understand what they are still going through.
But we cannot shake hands with those we intend to forgive with a clenched fist. When Jesus asked God to forgive us, he knew that only forgiveness can bridge the huge chasm between God and man.
For life to go on in our society, we desperately need to learn how to forgive and to be forgiven. Both are not easy as the saying goes: “Forgiveness is the sweetest revenge.” And that is exactly what the second part of Jesus’ prayer means “...they don’t know what they are doing?”
In order to forgive and get healed inside, since not to forgive is to choke one self, we must meditate on the attitude and words of Jesus whose compassion and understanding are very profound. He was dying yet at the same time, showing his incredible love for us.
And the excuse he gives why we should be forgiven is because we just don’t know any better. Of course he had in mind the intentionally horrendous deeds and actions we as a human race continue to inflict upon each other, even doing deeds that we know are atrocious which include prejudice, genocide, war and all sorts of violence.
When the genocide survivors forgive and decide to make a fresh start, the world should learn a lesson. They teach us that the justice system isn’t solely about punishment.
It’s about respect for the greater good of society, which is better served by moral rehabilitation and sincere reconciliation other than by revenge. In any case, we do not make ourselves better people by exercising a gruesome revenge on the brothers and sisters whose behaviour apparently made them our foes.
That would not be justifiable even if we hold it as something that they brought on themselves. Then we do not make the difference that society needs to see and for all of us.
Mercilessness in the name of justice was what Jesus was against in the Gospel. When the Samaritan village scorned and refused to welcome Jesus, it must have been painful for him.
But it was not less painful when his two disciples James and John insisted: “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” (Luke 9:54).
Though Jesus did not answer, in this country we do know the answer. In such a war of a consuming fire, no party is a winner. It is a Loss to a Loss.