Somewhere in a Mumbai suburban housing colony, a stray cat which was being fed by an animal lover, was taken out of the society by a person who did not love animals and dumped at a market. The lady who fed the poor cats and dogs was a religious person who believed that these miserable four-legged creatures were hers to look after.

When she saw the cat was missing, she suspected foul play and went to the police. The police immediately checked the cameras in the compound and found what had happened and confronted the culprit.

The man, realizing he’d been found out, went with folded hands to the cat loving lady and begged forgiveness. He even, I heard, went on his knees along with other members of the committee and they all told the religious lady they had done a grave wrong and it would never happen again.

“No!” said the lady piously, “One has to pay for the sins they commit!”

I heard the story from a close friend, and my mind went to an episode mentioned by writer Philip Yancy which coincidentally also happened in India.

He spoke of a prisoner who had returned to jail scores of times across a twenty- one- year span. The criminal simply could not break the cycle, until he found God.

Puzzled by his absence in court, the local magistrate visited the man’s home and asked what had happened. “For the first time in my life someone forgave me.” The ex-prisoner answered.

Forgiveness worked when punishment didn’t!

As a former honorary general secretary of the prison ministry in Mumbai, I have seen hardened criminals beginning to weep when they hear that a God above is waiting to forgive them. More than the rigors of jail, what they find unbearable is the guilt, from the crime they have committed, quite often in a fit of anger or moment of rage. Then, when they hear that forgiveness is available from the Only One who matters, their lives change.

The beauty of forgiveness is also the conversion of a person from what he or she is to what they can become. Let’s take the case of the ‘cat hater’. If the lady has it in her heart to forgive the man, then there are very good chances the same person seeing her goodness could also become one who begins to look at strays in a different way. He sees them suddenly through the eyes of the forgiver, and wears the same glasses of compassion she wears.

On the other hand, the man may serve time in jail or pay a hefty fine and come back even more hardened and angry. 

Fear and punishment and cameras may deter people from committing a crime again, but changing a person’s heart can only come through acts of forgiveness..!

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