It is impossible for others to help you come to terms with the past, if for you the past is a pile of wounded memories and angry humiliations, and the future is just a nursery of revenge.
- Eric Lomax
“God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field.
- Matthew 13.44 (The Message)
“Or, God’s kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it.
- Matthew 13.45 f. (The Message)
If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms.
- Luke 17.33 (The Message)
The more I have reflected on The Railway Man by Eric Lomax, or reviewed in my mind’s eye scenes from the movie of the same name (with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman), I come back to the same question; the one question that refuses an easy response; how in God’s name is reconciliation ever possible? When one has been wronged in egregious ways (say, for example, tortured repeatedly as a prisoner of war); when one’s humanity has been mocked, assailed, and ultimately stripped away by the cruel acts of another (say, for example, being forced to watch and listen to the preparation for the next session of torture), how is it ever possible to forgive? How is it ever possible to reconcile with that devil in human guise? How is it ever possible to look up to the heavens, like Jesus on the cross, and ask God to forgive his enemies?
So it was for Eric Lomax (The Railway Man is autobiographical) for years after he managed to survive his tortures and make his way home from the Second World War. I say make his way home; he made it to England, but you couldn’t confirm the home thing by him. He was tormented; his torture extended by his continued anguish, so wracked was he by fear, anger, bitterness, and a void where any sense of a just world had once resided. He was unable to make his way back into normal life, or find a place for himself in his own home; and he was unable to come to terms with his own history.
Then comes the news that the man he remembers as responsible for his torture not only survived the war, but also was working as a tour guide at the very POW camp in which he had tortured Eric and others.
Something had to give. Confrontation was inevitable. But what would it – what should it - accomplish? Revenge? Reconciliation? He knew that reconciliation would require something more powerful than his seemingly limitless hatred; he knew that it would take a treasure, a pearl of great value, to overcome his pain. Identifying this treasure is our task for Sunday. We get enigmatic hints about this treasure from one and another, but nothing that clarifies or soothes; nothing painless, no turn-key solution, nothing truly plug-and-play. Madeleine L’Engle, for example, insists that reconciliation requires healing grief… that forgiving someone is painful. It involves what she calls fellow-feeling; which I take to mean empathizing with the one we seek to forgive, being willing to see things from his or her point of view. Again, St. Francis observed that none of us can ever be truly compassionate until we recognize that we are capable of any act; even despicable acts like the torture to which Eric was subjected.
The treasure we seek will not be easily or painlessly identified. But we will search, for we, too, may be in need of reconciliation, and to find the treasure that can unlock forgiveness and reconciliation… now that would be priceless.
We hope to see you on Sunday!