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Give It Up!

by Greg Howell

It was supposed to be a great summer. I had applied and been accepted as part of the counselor staff at one of the better summer camps in the country. It was a camp with a huge lake, water sports, a ropes course, and tree house adventures for the kids. Up until that point I had only been an attendee at such a camp, but when my chance came to be one of the revered counselors, I jumped at the opportunity.

Freshly arrived with nostalgic visions of my own days at summer camp washing over me, it came as a surprise that there was a certain degree of bickering and infighting going on among the staff behind the scenes. As a kid you never really see that kind of stuff, but the background scene of working at camp was like a little microcosm of social angst and drama. Somehow, early on in the summer I upset the boys’ director and got placed on an informal “blacklist.”

Without explanation I was left out of the various counselor events, ranging from a song-and-dance flag raising at the beginning of each camp to a weekly “invite only” man-meeting with video games and junk food after lights out. Once I realized that I was being ostracized, my summer started to spiral downward, and resentment quickly set in. Even the campers in my cabin would ask, “Why aren’t you doing the flag raising with all the other counselors?” And I would just shake my head and truthfully say, “I don’t know.” Nobody likes getting snubbed, and when it came time to pack up and head home after summer was over, I knew this was the end of my one and only year working at camp.

Years went by, I graduated, got a job, married, and then I was attending seminary at Andrews University. Sitting in one of my classes on the first day, I was fiddling with my computer when a guy sat down next to me. He leaned over and asked if there was another plug next to me that he could connect his laptop to, and I looked up to see my new tablemate was the boys’ director from that summer all those years ago. Shock, and a surprising wave of anger, rose up in my chest as I nodded quietly while plugging his cord into the wall.

It had been more than eight years since those camp days, but I could tell that my resentment was still there, tucked away in some deep corner that I’d forgotten about. Had I ever taken the time to forgive all that stuff? Obviously not. Forgiveness just doesn’t come naturally sometimes.

I think Jesus knew a bit about being snubbed too, based on a story found in Luke 7. The opening sentence gives us a very awkward moment when Jesus is being openly shunned and insulted by the very person who invited Him home for dinner. “One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined” (Luke 7:36).* Now, for Western readers this opening sentence doesn’t hold much tension. But for someone in the Middle East reading this story, what didn’t happen would have hit them squarely in the face. In Middle Eastern culture, upon entering a home the host would have always done three things for his guest: kissed them on the cheeks in greeting; offered them water to perform ceremonial cleansing; and offered olive oil or ointment to further cleanse and refresh themselves.

According to the opening verse, none of those things happened. Well, maybe the writer just failed to put that part in, since it was so common, you might be thinking? Nope; later on in the passage Jesus actually points out this failure of hospitality when comparing the actions of a woman who enters the room shortly after Himself. “And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner (or a prostitute), . . . brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment” (Luke 7:37, 38).

Notice what she does: kiss Him, wash Him, apply ointment to Him—the exact things that the host should have done but refused to do. Why did he refuse? Because he had invited Jesus to publicly challenge His claim of being a prophet, and he had no intention of honoring a person he suspected was a fraud. As the woman is washing Jesus’ feet, the Pharisee quietly concludes to himself that Jesus must not be a prophet, otherwise He would have known this was a prostitute and never let her touch Him like this in public.

To the Pharisee’s surprise, though, Jesus proceeds to tell a short parable about forgiveness. “ ‘A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’ And he said to him, ‘You have judged rightly’ ” (Luke 7:41-43).

Jesus’ parable was a very pointed one, and the surprising thing for the Pharisee was that Jesus was speaking of the woman (the greater debtor, for her life as a prostitute) and the Pharisee himself (the lesser debtor, for his refusal to welcome Jesus). Jesus’ offer of forgiveness, for them both, was completely spontaneous and openhanded. There was nothing the Pharisee or the woman needed to do to obtain it.

And in the face of my own inability to forgive, Jesus’ parable and His subsequent response of forgiveness to all those who snubbed Him is a stark and powerful reminder. Can I become the kind of person who treats people like this? I want to, and I need to learn how to forgive like this with an unfettered compassion.

I hope that you can learn from my experience. If someone has done you wrong, and you are holding a grudge—let it go! The only person you’ll end up hurting is yourself. Don’t be like the Pharisee and hold back love and forgiveness from others, because when you do, you end up holding back God’s love and forgiveness toward you. God paid too high a price for you not to take hold of your salvation simply because you’re holding on to a grudge. Give it to God. I promise, He’ll deal with it in a much better way than you’ll ever be able to.

* Scripture quotations in this article are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Greg Howell is a pastor in Washington and with his wife has coauthored a teen devotional titled Fusion. He prefers to spend his time snowboarding, behind a camera, or running around like a crazy person chasing his four kids.

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