This week is Holy week in the Christian calendar. It is a week when we reflect on the events that led up to the crucifixion of Jesus. Those events led up to a horrible death at the hands of Roman soldiers, which is now celebrated on Good Friday. I have often wondered what is so ‘good’ about Good Friday? Surely there is nothing good about such an event. Yet in that act of sacrifice is the message of forgiveness. In reflecting on those events, it reminds me of how Jesus led his life and of how even in the middle of His painful death, He calls on His father to forgive those responsible. It is a message we need reminding of often if we are to experience freedom.
This is a quote from Nelson Mandela as he made to exit the prison, he had been held captive in for over 27 years. He said:
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn\’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I\’d still be in prison.”
His life was not easy as he sought to overturn the system of Apartheid in South Africa. He realised though that if he held on to the bitterness and hatred, which many of us might say was justified, then he would continue be imprisoned – not by a physical prison but by those same emotions.
There are many reasons why we take offense at things. Often the reasons seem to be justified when innocent people are hurt physically or emotionally. We can also take offense when we are insecure and can’t handle what is being said to us. It takes a certain posture to be able to receive criticism, particularly when it is accurate. Regardless of what has caused us to take offense, we should ask the question: is what they’re saying of me true?
If the criticism we’ve received is true then we have an opportunity to change our behaviour, our thinking, or possibly both. If the criticism comes from someone close to us, it does us well to pay attention as they know us the best and are not usually saying something to us out of malice. Whether the offending words are true or not, the opportunity for self-reflection is rarely wasted. However, we should understand where taking offense leads.
Digging into this idea of offense it is helpful to understand its root. It comes from a word from which we get our English word scandal. A “Skandalon” was the bait stick in a trap that was set to capture animals. When the animal wanders into the cage, in search of food, they take the bait which moves the stick and springs the trap, imprisoning the animal.
The point is, taking offense can lead us into a prison of our own making. It is not to diminish in any sense, the words or the deed, which may have caused the offense, some of the things which come your way, can be difficult to deal with. However, the only route out of offense is to forgive the person who has caused it and perhaps forgive yourself if needed too.
It is counterintuitive and in no sense an easy route to take. But it does mean that you keep your heart free and stay out of the prison that offense creates. I hope like Nelson Mandela we can choose, at this time of Easter, to let go of any anger and bitterness we may feel to others and, as Nelson said, “walk into freedom.”
Have a Happy Easter.