In the final days of the George W. Bush administration 2,300 convicted felons have applied for presidential clemency (a reduction of sentence) or pardon (the forgiveness of a conviction and suspension of legal penalty).
According to an article on ABC News, a long list of hopefuls are waiting to see if the president will grant their request prior to his last day in office.
I raise the issue not to engage in a political discussion, but rather because many believe that the reputation that Jesus has for offering pardons to the worst of offenders is the ultimate scandal.
Jesus’ habit of befriending sinners was one of the things that turned religious leaders against him. Yet when they whispered “blasphemy” after hearing him offer spiritual pardon, he dramatically healed a man who had been so physically impaired that friends had to carry him to Jesus (Luke 5:18-24).
Although Jesus healed and forgave people others loved to hate, one thing he did not do was to orchestrate the kind of prison breaks that would have violated social legal process. Instead it was Pilate, a governor, who decided to release a murderer and political insurrectionist by the name of Barabbas, just before washing his hands of Jesus and caving into the mob’s cries for a Roman style crucifixion (Mark 15:7).
So even though much of the world will be watching to see who President Bush may or may not “forgive”, a far greater drama will continue to play out all around us. The real story is still who among us will wake up to the realization of what it means for “the worst” among us to have access to a forgiveness granted, not as a political favor, or on the basis of a constitutional power, but on the basis of the suffering he endured, and the death he died– for us.
Why would he do it? Witnesses heard him say something to the effect that those who’ve been forgiven of a lot, love a lot, but those who don’t think they’ve been forgiven of much don’t love much (Luke 7:47).
As for me? My sins have not been few. If I was in my “right mind” the grateful celebration of my pardon would never end.