Ezekiel 33:7-11 Romans 13:8-14 Matthew 18:15-20 Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, touch our lives with your healing forgiveness, and put a new heart and a right spirit within us, so that we may truly love you and faithfully serve you, to the glory of your name. Amen.
Eighty-nine relatives of Simon Wiesenthal had been murdered by the Nazis. He became a Nazi hunter and spent the rest of his life locating and prosecuting Nazi’s after the war and wrote a book that began with a true experience he had while he himself was a concentration camp prisoner. One day he was yanked out of a work detail and taken up a back stairway to a dark hospital room. A nurse led him into the room, then left him alone with a figure wrapped in white, lying on a bed. The figure was a badly wounded German soldier, whose entire face was covered with bandages.
With a trembling voice, the German made a kind of confession to Wiesenthal. He told about the brutal measures his S.S. unit had taken against Jews. And then he told of the terrible atrocities that he himself had committed against the Jews.
Several times Wiesenthal tried to leave the room, but each time the ghost-like figure would reach out and beg him to stay. Finally, after 2 hours, the soldier told Wiesenthal why he had been summoned. He then said, "I know that what I am asking is almost too much for you. But without your answer I cannot die in peace." He asked for forgiveness for all the Jews he had killed.
Wiesenthal sat in silence for some time. He stared at the man’s bandaged face. At last, he stood up and left the room without saying a word. He left the soldier in torment, unforgiven.
This true story about Wiesenthal might be considered by some to be an extreme case, however, I believe this scenario is not unfamiliar to us. To forgive someone the hurt they have caused us, can be one of the toughest things that a Christian is called to do. There are people who have fallen out with family members, who are no longer talking to one-time-friends or who have dropped their connection with a congregation because they have found it impossible to forgive. Like Simon Wiesenthal, the hurt is so enormous. It would mean giving up too much to go to those who have hurt them and seek a way to be reconciled to that person. It is just too hard to forgive and put the hurt behind them and settle the differences between them.
Forgiveness is counterculture. What I mean by that is that forgiveness goes against what is practiced in our society. Remember the wave of attacks on Moslems, and how mosques in the USA and here were destroyed by fire because of what had happened on September 11, 2001. Revenge, an eye for an eye, racism and prejudice are the ways our culture deals with hurt and those who offend us.
On May 13, 1981, people all over the world, were shocked by the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul recovered from his wound, and he stunned the world when, on Christmas day, he made a visit to Rome’s Rabbibia Prison to see the man who had attempted to assassinate him. The white-robed Pope and jean-clad terrorist huddled in the prison cell for 20 minutes, talking in low voices that could not be heard. When he emerged John Paul explained, "I spoke to a brother whom I have pardoned." The headline the next week of Time Magazine was "Why forgive?" It was as if the world could not come to terms with the prospect that it is possible to forgive someone like this assassin.
Forgiveness goes against the grain of our human nature. If someone offends us or causes us hurt in some way, it’s natural for us to want to break off our relationship with that person. And so we see people dropping out of congregations and clubs, children no longer talking to parents, neighbors ignoring their neighbors and so on. For these people there is no question about who should take steps to restore friendship – the person who has caused the offense. That’s the natural human way we deal with disagreements.
But Jesus says that Christians have a special responsibility when there is a falling out. It is the duty of the one who has been offended to renew the relationship that has been damaged. And this is where it gets hard. It is illogical and unfair to expect the one who has been hurt to make the first move to restore their friendship. After all that person is the one who has offended me, he/she should come to me and own up to what they have done and ask me to forgive them. What is more, it is difficult to go and speak to someone when I am upset and hurt by what that person has done.
Peter once was concerned about how many times he should keep on forgiving someone. He is thinking that there must be a limit to the number of times he should have to forgive someone who repeatedly hurts and offends him. Jesus tells Peter that there is no end to the number of times we should seek a renewal of friendship – reconciliation.
It’s tough to forgive, isn’t it? And yet, that’s exactly what Jesus commands us to do here. We are not told to do it if we feel like it. We are told to take the initiative and attempt to work out reconciliation with the person who has offended us.
Forgiveness means letting go of our hurt pride, our need to strike back – to take revenge (which seems to be our natural instinct) and do what is illogical and ever so hard. It means making our relationship with that other person the most important thing in our lives. Jesus rates reconciliation as one of the most important things we can do. He said, "If you are about to offer your gift to God at the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift to God"
It’s even harder to go to someone and seek reconciliation when you have offended someone unintentionally and they are upset over something you are completely unaware of. It’s easy to say – that’s his/her problem. This is where we really need the Spirit’s help so that we can let the light of Christ’s forgiveness shine through us and make a difference to the lives of others.
And because forgiveness can be so hard, this is a matter for prayer. We need to enlist God's help to overcome our sinful attitudes and to be more like Christ. We need to pray that we would have a greater concern for the welfare of others. We need God’s forgiveness for the many times when we let our sinful nature take control and we let the pain and the hurt continue.
When Jesus tells us to go to the person who has offended us, this puts us in a unique position. The responsibility is placed upon us to take to that person the healing redemptive Word of God, and in love, without gossiping, without malice, or any other hidden motives, cover the sin of the other with love and forgiveness.
God grant that we may forgive one another just as God has generously forgiven us. Let us Pray: Merciful Father, your Son has taught us to seek reconciliation with those who have sinned against us and, in doing so, to experience the healing of our own hearts. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to put into action what he has taught us. We ask this through Christ, our Lord.