Trevor Hudson poses a simple question:
If someone steals something precious or valuable from you and then apologises and asks you to forgive him or her, but keeps it for themselves not returning it or offering to replace it, how would you feel? Would you accept the apology? Would you feel that he or she is genuinely sorry? Probably not. An important ingredient is missing: Restitution. Restoration. Making Amends.
In our Old Testament passage today from Leviticus 6:1-7, the passage is very clear that within ancient Israelite culture if one realised one was guilty of something that damaged a relationship with another person, then restoration was necessary. In this passage, interestingly, there is no mention of making and apology. There is no mention of asking for forgiveness. All that is asked of a person in this passage is a recognition of guilt, a restoration of what has been lost, or broken, and a ritual offering as an outward religious sign of re-connecting or restoring that persons relationship not just with the injured person, but also with the Divine. A recognition that our broken relationships with others leave us feeling disconnected from the Divine and one could say, from life itself.
The ancient writer of Leviticus clearly recognised that apologies and requests for forgiveness are cheap, empty and meaningless. What is required is a clear and unambiguous effort to make amends.
And that brings us to Step 9 on the 12 Step Program.
Last week’s Sermon was entitled “Mending Fences Part 1” in which we explored Step 8 which invited us first to make a list of all the people we have hurt or harmed, and secondly to become willing to make amends.
If you’re going to mend a broken fence, first you have to recognise which fences are broken, and then have the will to mend them. That was Step 8.
Step 9 is now a commitment to following through on that intention. It reads: We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Step 8 was the preparation to make amends. Step 9 is the commitment to actually do so.
The Gospel of Luke has a wonderful story of a person expressing the courage to make amends, because making amends takes an enormous amount of courage. It is the story of Zacchaeus, the dodgy tax-collector, who had amassed great wealth for himself by over-charging the people of Jericho in their taxes. Upon meeting Jesus, without any prompting from Jesus, he is moved to make amends. We read in verse 8 “But he stood up and said to Jesus: ‘If I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will repay back four times the amount’.
Trevor Hudson writes that Zacchaeus’s new spiritual experience having encountered Jesus and having been accepted by him and called by name by Jesus was accompanied by a deep desire to make restitution, to put right what he had done wrong. He knew that there was no such thing as a private salvation deal with God. He had done wrong things to people that he needed to put right.
And so as Trevor writes, restitution begins when we make a conscious decision to face those whom we have wronged. These people might include our spouses, parents, children, brothers and sisters and close friends. They may also include people we don’t even like, those with whom we don’t communicate, and even some whom we consider our enemies. Step 9 invites us to go to them, if it is at all possible, to acknowledge the hurt we have caused and to explain our desire to make amends.
Last week I shared how early in his ministry Trevor’s tendency to over-work and over-commit and his constant absence from home had caused hurt and damage in his marriage to his wife Debbie. In making amends he writes how he sat down with her, apologised to her for neglecting their relationship and then explained his intention to put things right. He suggested, if she were willing, that he would take her out every Monday night from then on and depending on the budget it would be for either a milkshake or a pizza. It is a practice that has continued through the years. He comments that making restitution in that instance has been a lot of fun.
But sometimes, he acknowledges, it may not be enjoyable at all. He tells of a friend who had a gambling addiction and had defrauded the company where he worked of large sums of money. When he began to awaken to the spiritual dimension of his life, he realised that he needed to come clean and to put right what he had done wrong.
He spoke to his boss, admitted his wrong-doing and then offered to repay the money with interest on a monthly basis. It was a long, hard and costly journey, but having done it he came to experience a freedom and serenity that he had never known before. Despite the difficulty it was worth it.
Trevor acknowledges however that not all attempts to make amends will necessarily have a happy ending. Some may be too angry with us and therefore not be receptive. Others may have been too deeply hurt to want to re-engage with us. And in these instances he suggests one can only take solace in the fact that we have tried our best. Step 9 recognises the limitations to making direct amends. It asks only that we make amends wherever possible.
In some instances a person may have died, or live elsewhere or not traceable. In such cases we can only make what can be called ‘indirect amends’ by committing ourselves to living a life of integrity as much as possible from that moment on, committing ourselves to becoming less selfish, less controlling and more loving. Trevor suggests that in doing so, we are saying to those we have hurt and to those to whom we may not have immediate access, ‘I recognise that I have hurt you, but through my new way of life, I am seeking to make it up to you indirectly’.
Lastly, Step 9 suggests that there are times when making direct amends is not advisable. It says we are to make direct amends wherever possible to those we have harmed, ‘except when to do so would injure them or others.’ In other words, if there is any possibility that we will cause even greater harm, we must think twice before we go ahead. It would be wrong to expose somebody else to even more suffering just so that we can ease our own conscience. Obviously this will require being mindful of other people and especially innocent parties and the impact of bringing something potentially damaging out into the open.
So much more could be said regarding for example the right timing when making amends, the right approach, and even the right measures and those complicated scenarios when we might end up doing more harm than good. All of these will ultimately be determined by our attempt to put ourselves in the other persons shoes. This is about moving beyond concern for self and about asking what will be best, most helpful and most healing for the ones that I have harmed.
But maybe we are still not ready to make amends. Trevor suggests that the best way to start is to start with the small things and to build momentum from there. Small victories might give us the courage to tackle the bigger ones. He also points us to the Big Book of AA which reminds us of the huge benefits of restitution. It says that when we make amends we will not regret the past nor wish to close the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace… Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us… We will suddenly realise that God [The Great Wisdom of Life] is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Amen.
And so I leave these thoughts with you again as some food for thought for us to consider on our own individual journeys.