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Spiritual Matters – by Rev Chris Sparks

I beg your pardon


The niceties of the English language are slowly being whittled away. Whilst many don’t care a hoot about this, others do. In my own opinion, it’s a cause for real regret that we can so easily accept that a more respectful way of speaking (and living) is an inevitable casualty of modern life.
My train of thought along these lines was prompted by someone recently who, not having heard something someone had said to them, tersely responded “What?” You see, I was brought up to believe that the appropriate response in situations like this is to say, respectfully, “I beg your pardon”.
Now, one thing leads to another and I’m cogitating (thinking) about what that means. And the bottom line seems to be that the hearer who fails to hear, wishes to apologise for his or her failure.
It’s a nice way of communicating the fact that no blame is being attached to the speaker for the mis-communication.
Yep, asking for someone to pardon, or forgive us for a failure on our part is a relatively old-fashioned idea. But a great one!
In 1830, George Wilson was convicted of robbing the U.S. Mail, and was sentenced to be hanged. For whatever reason, the incumbent President, Andrew Jackson, issued a pardon for Wilson. But the convicted felon refused to accept it. The matter didn’t end there however, for the Chief Justice, Marshall, became involved in the case and upon close examination of the relevant facts, concluded that Wilson would have to be executed. “A pardon is a slip of paper,” wrote Marshall, “the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned. If it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged.”

The story is unique in many ways because, logically, we’d think that surely no-one in their right mind would refuse a pardon. But then we’d need to take that thought a little further.
The life and ministry of Jesus was all about connecting with people, sharing through word and action the reality of the love of God for His people and finally, demonstrating that love by sacrificing his life as an act of pardoning grace – a grace that is freely and unconditionally offered to all. Well, when I say unconditionally, I am of course referring to the offer of the pardon. The offer is made. The next bit seals the deal. It must be accepted! A pardon that is refused is incomplete – and therefore, by choice, ineffective.
Through Jesus Christ, God offers us a sweeping pardon for ignoring or flaunting his lordship and his love. But we have the option and the right to throw that back in his face if we choose, by deciding that it’s worthless and of no relevance to us. In other words, we may choose not to accept God’s grace-full pardon.
What a tragedy! The pardon that was won for us at such terrible cost to Jesus, we can callously reject. And the other side of that coin is that God has no option but to accept our refusal – for the very substance, or DNA of real and complete love is that it must be mutual. 

Many in today’s society value progression through change – a point made often and eloquently throughout the long election campaign. But the reality is, some things are unchangeable – and must remain unchangeable, simply because they contain the very DNA of a society that can only survive and prosper when its people accept the life-giving pardon of a loving God for the errors of the past.