A psychology professor at a small midwestern university was teaching a class on ethics and during the section of the class dealing with forgiveness, showed up in class with boxes of tomatoes and little plastic bags from the grocery store. He instructed each of the students to take a bag, a marker and begin. If they had been offended in some small way by a friend or neighbor; they were to take a small cherry tomato and write the name of the person, and the offense on the skin of the tomato, and deposit it in the bag. If they had been offended in a bigger way, take a Roma tomato, and write the name of the offender, and the offense on that. Use as many tomatoes representing how often they had been hurt by others. And if they have been hurt in some huge way, take a big ol’ beefsteak tomato and write the name of the offender, and describe the offense all over the tomato and put it in the bag.
When each student had filled his/her bag, the professor then gave them this assignment:
“From now ’til the end of the semester, you are to carry this bag with you wherever you go. To class. Across campus. To the cafeteria. Even to your bed with you at night, right beside your head. If I see you without your bag of tomatoes, I will dock your grade. You must carry this bag until the end of the semester.”
Well, the first week wasn’t so bad, he docked a few students when they were caught without their bags, or forgot them in class. The second week brought more objections from the classmates – “these bags are getting heavy, and inconvenient to carry.” By week three, the students’ complaints were intensifying: “The bags are getting mushy, and starting to rot and smell.” “It’s disgusting to be seen with these rotting tomatoes.” By the fourth week, the students’ complaints were off the chart: “No one wants to be around me, ’cause this bag stinks!”
Finally, the professor asked if he’d made his point. Did they understand that carrying around a bag of unforgiveness, living with a spirit of resentment, harboring a hope for revenge will eventually begin to stink – and no one will want to be around you!”
“So, if you have received the lesson”, he said, “take your bags outside, and dump them in the flower beds around campus. In a couple weeks what will we find? Yes, the rotten tomatoes will grow some new plants.”
So too when we forgive – when we plant our hurts and resentments in the fertile soil of God’s love and grace, God will bring new life, new joy and new freedom to us.