Miroslov Volf was a guest speaker at the Seminary last week. He spoke very eloquently on topics of forgiveness. It was all very impressive and sparked some very thoughtful conversations amongst my friends and associates. Thursday evening Volf talked about three categories or modes of existence. We can live in coercion, sales or gift. Living coercively involves using our charms and gifts to get those things we want from other people, whether they desire to give them to us or not. We exploit others and in that process we also exploit ourselves. Sales involves a this for that transaction. We know what that is all about. Everything is sales now-a-days. And gift—true gift—is very rare. One gives freely with no expectation of getting a return—ever! The later is what poets and idealists dream and write of. It is a risky grace. It shipwrecks a cost-benefit economy and also runs the risk of being shipwrecked by it in return. Yet it forces one to live in open-handed hope. Hope that a gift would be given freely in return and that the human community would be built up by pure gift. And that this community would begin with you and me. That this gift that the God of all being has given to us freely so that we can give a truly free gift in the agony filled hope that a free gift would be returned, so that the both of us would be enhanced in our being by the life-giving, mutual benefit of gift giving.
However, the pinnacle moment was when Volf mentioned in passing that these concepts are only articulated out of the shining examples of his saintly nanny and his father. Later, someone prompted him to tell us about the examples his father left him. And this was the most memorable of anything he said. He went on and on, telling us stories about his father. One of them was about when he was young and his five-year-old brother had died at the hands of a man, in an accident with a cart. His father, in response, spent an entire day traveling to find this man, to tell him that he did not hold him responsible.
This demonstration of forgiveness and love is a gift of more value than anything in the world that money can buy. Thus, whatever the price, whatever it costs to offer such a gift, one should take it, even if it takes a lifetime to find the person. Even if it costs a thousand dollars. Even if it costs a million dollars and all your energy and health. If you sacrifice everything: this is a true gift. The greater the offense…the greater the price…the greater the opportunity to give an EXPENSIVE gift for FREE.
But most of the time the gift won't cost us a million dollars. We wish it would. Instead it will cost us pride, fame, fortune. To give such a gift will humiliate us and correct us.