Matthew 3:11-12 (NIV)
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
To the farmers of Jesus’ time, winnowing (or threshing) was a familiar harvesting event. A winnowing fork was used to toss ripe grain into the air so that the wind could blow away the worthless chaff, preserving the valuable kernels. In the above passage, John the Baptizer uses winnowing as an analogy for God’s judgment, when the righteous will be separated from the unrighteous and saved. We can further use the image of winnowing to help us understand how forgiveness works.
When we first sustain a personal injury, a crowd of emotions can flood our hearts: anger, surprise, disappointment, indignation, sorrow, fear. Given time, these emotions can harden into resentment and bitterness. We nurse grudges and entertain fantasies of revenge. We may rehearse stories to tell others about how we have suffered unjustly. Sometimes we cover our emotions with a blanket of indifference, convincing ourselves that the injury did not matter.
All these hardened responses to injury are as worthless and lifeless as the chaff that encases the valuable heart of a grain. Yet we cling to them with the idea that we need them. We use them as barriers to protect ourselves from further injury or to punish the wrongdoer. Encasing our hearts in resentment may be so habitual that we don’t even realize we have a choice.
In choosing to forgive, we surrender our injured hearts to the Holy Spirit, who blows through us like a cleansing wind, discarding the worthless chaff and preserving what is precious. Through the healing work of God’s love and nurturing presence, we find the strength and the will to love and pray for those who have injured us. Winnowing the chaff releases us from its grip and frees us to rebuild a damaged relationship.
FATHER, I confess that the chaff surrounding my injured heart can be so attractive that I cannot imagine giving it up. I ask for the courage to surrender my heart to the purging power of your Spirit Wind. Help me to recognize the worthless, lifeless nature of my resentment and to desire instead the freedom that comes from forgiving others.
Matthew 5:44; John 3:8
How have you encased your injured heart in worthless chaff?