The Empty Exchange

March 28, 2010

The Empty Exchange

Samuel and Luka had been lifelong friends. Their relationship stretched back to when they were both children and continued through adolescence into their adult years. But their relationship really deepened when, during the war, they fought side by side int he trenches.

Yet, when they returned from the war, they both fell in love with the same woman, Mila. Although she finally married Luka, Samuel continued to harbor his own deep feelings for her.

As time went on, Samuel’s parents were tragically killed, and he inherited his family’s estate. Although now a wealthy man, he found it hard to accept the death of his parents and sought emotional support from the one woman he had always loved.

Amidst the intensity of the circumstances, a brief affair ensued between Samuel and Mila. Unable to live with the secrecy of their actions, Samuel ended the affair and confessed all. Luka, devastated by the news, looked Samuel in the eyes and said, “Before God and all the heavenly hosts, I swear to you now that I will never accept your apology.”

These words haunted Samuel for many years, for he felt awful about what he had done and yearned to be reconciled once more with his friend. Yet he understood the pain and heartache he had caused and knew that his friend was a man of his word. Samuel knew that his friend would remain true to his vow and would never accept Samuel’s offer of repentance, even if Luka now wanted to.

Yet, after years of wrestling, he decided that it did not matter whether his apology was accepted or now. What mattered was that he approach his friend and express his sorrow. So, early one evening Samuel gathered his courage and went to Luka’s house. Upon seeing Luka, Samuel fell to the ground and cried out, “Old friend, I know that you cannot accept my apology because you made a solemn oath all those years ago. But I must tell you that there has not been a day when I have not been brought low by my actions. I have never been able to free myself from this pain, and I am truly sorry for what I did.”

Luka smiled with compassion, for over the years he had come to understand that those days had been darks for everyone, and that Samuel had been suffering from deep depression. So he addressed his repentant friend saying, “I made a vow never to accept your apology, and I intend to keep my word. But seeing you like this makes such an apology superfluous. Indeed, if I were to accept your apology, then this would mean that I considered you to have intentionally hurt me– something I know is not the case. So I reject your apology as unnecessary and thus keep my vow intact, not because I wish to continue our estrangement, but so that we can truly be reconciled as brothers once more.”

After this, Samuel and Luka were reunited and went on to grow old together as friends and companions once more.


In the prodigal parable we looked at the idea of forgiveness preceding apology, an idea that I think is a powerful one. Here we see a slightly more nuanced take. The apology is a necessary step for the offender, Samuel to take, but it is unnecessary, since Luka has forgiven him already. Allowing Samuel to apologize has made it possible for him to move on from his transgression, though.

As we start to go through Holy Week, I think this idea is a wonderful metaphor for the Christian life. This story parallels, in many ways, the story told in the Bible. (For Samuel, read humanity; for Luka, read God; for Mila, read temptation– I am, however, uncomfortable making a women the sole source of temptation, but I digress.) Samuel transgressed Luka, betraying him in perhaps the most personal way possible. In response Luka made Samuel anathema. (Banishment from the garden, death and suffering, etc.) The separation between these two close friends deeply affected both of them; they both wanted to be back together. There’s much of the human experience in Samuel’s anguished wandering after he and Luka fall out. I wonder if we fleshed this story out further if we’d find instances like the Exodus story, moments in which Luka tried to call Samuel back but was not heard.

At any rate, we end with Samuel finding out that his apology was not needed, because he’d already been forgiven. True apology helps set a person on a path to change, so don’t let this seem like I’m downplaying the role of repentance. I know some– Tyler, I’m guessing– will want to talk more about this idea, but I think the kernel of this story syncs well with orthodox Christian teaching. When we repent we find that we were forgiven all along. It wasn’t God who needed to do the forgiving; it was us who needed to do the apologizing.

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