A father and his boy were taking a train to visit the boy's grandparents. It was the boy's first train ride and he was looking forward to it. But upon boarding the train, his dad stumbled for a moment and bumped into the conductor collecting the boarding tickets. The conductor was angered by the bumping and scolded the dad for being clumsy. But the dad said nothing and he and his son sat in their seats on the train. The boy was puzzled because his dad had put up with the conductor's verbal abuse and had remained silent. So he asked his dad why he didn't talk back to the angry conductor. Dad just smiled and said, “Listen, son. It's this way. That poor man has to put up with himself every day of his life. So it's a small thing for me to put up with him for just a few minutes.”
Sad to say, getting hurt and hurting others are both part of daily life for most everyone, and we all have to deal with the consequences. We know what to do about the hurts that we ourselves cause: ask forgiveness, repair the damage and then try our best not to do it again. Easier said than done, but at least we know what to do. The harder question is what to do when others hurt us and do us wrong. How do we respond? As followers of Jesus, we know revenge must not be an option. We've been told to forgive and forget, to turn the other cheek, to not hold a grudge. But we too often fall short. Like the dad on the train, we put up with the wrong done us, but then we oftentimes distance ourselves from the offender. Inside, we say to ourselves, “Forget you!” – which is not the kind of forgetting Jesus has in mind.
Our natural inclination is to turn away, to avoid the one who wrongs us. That inclination is certainly understandable; but it is not Christ-like, because hidden in the heart of the one offending us – right next to the meanness and anger – is an untapped reservoir of goodness. That goodness can be drawn out and helped to grow. As good parents and teachers know, to fail to see and name the good in another, and to fail to expect the good from another, is ultimately to condemn that person to hopelessness and isolation. But to recognize and acknowledge another's goodness is to offer that person hope and, possibly, even friendship.
That is the gift Jesus gives us each day, and the gift he asks us to give each other: the gift of hoping mightily in the goodness that remains far too often buried in human hearts. Certainly we cannot withhold that gift from each other, can we?