It’s been years since I’ve read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Call me silly, legalistic, prudish or whatever, but the magic and the cross-dressing in his comedies bother me. So, although I understand why Portia dresses as a man during the courtroom scene, I feel uncomfortable with it.
Today, however, I’ve been thinking about Shylock’s demand for a pound of flesh when Antonio defaulted on his loan. Despite offers to pay him back double the debt, Shylock resolutely demands the pound of flesh. Nothing else will satisfy him.
Shylock’s unmerciful attitude shocks us, though it really ought to expose our own unwillingness to extend mercy and forgiveness when someone apologizes to us. I know that I secretly enjoy the feeling of power I experience when anyone acknowledges their indebtedness to me. Somehow I don’t think I’m the only one who secretly enjoys that power. There’s a little bit of Shylock in many people.
God’s Word stands squarely against our unforgiveness, however. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, conveys the Lord’s command that Christians live in harmony with each other.
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. ~~Colossians 3:12-15 (ESV)
We readily nod our heads in agreement with this passage. Yes, Christians by all means should live this way, we tell ourselves. Those of you who are mothers work hard to instill these attitudes in your children. We know how much the Lord has forgiven us, and we acknowledge that no one has sinned against us nearly as much as we’ve sinned against Him.
But the minute someone offends us, Colossians 3:12-15 sprouts wings and flies out the window.
The person who offends us may do her best to seek our forgiveness, and usually it’s appropriate for her to make amends. But when we are dissatisfied with her attempts to make things right, perhaps insisting that she also apologize for things that weren’t actually sinful, could it possibly be that now we stand in violation of Colossians 3:12-15? I know I’ve done that far too often.
Such unforgiveness must grieve the Holy Spirit! He would not want a Christian who has experienced the grace of God’s forgiveness to demand a pound of flesh from a sister in Christ.