Pentecost 15 Genesis 50:15-21 Romans 14:1-12 Matthew 18:21-35
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.
Our appointed Gospel for today is once again about forgiveness -------Hmmmmm -----must be important.
Two little brothers, Harry and James, had finished supper and were playing until bedtime. Somehow, Harry hit James with a stick, and tears and bitter words followed. Charges and accusations were still being exchanged as mother prepared them for bed. The mother instructed, "Now James, before you go to bed you’re going to have to forgive your brother." James was thoughtful for a few moments, and then he replied, "Well OK. I’ll forgive him tonight, but if I’m still alive in the morning, he’d better look out!
The problem is that we are forgiving only to a point. Unlike God, whose forgiveness is unlimited, ours has limitations. The more times we have been burned the less likely we are to forgive. Peter was looking for boundaries. "Give me a rule to follow or some formula." We like rules and formulas because then we can say it is the law.
Jesus, however, does not let us off the hook. For God’s forgiveness has no boundaries or conditions. But, 77 times seems absurd. What this story illustrates is that it is virtually impossible to forgive, again and again. That is why we need salvation. That is why we need God. That is why we need God’s forgiveness because it is impossible for us to be forgiving toward others all the time.
Forgiveness is not easy. But I wonder if we really know what it means to forgive? The Greek word for "forgive" in the New Testament means "to send off, to release, to hurl, to let go." One time I saw a golfer, driving balls into the woods. I wondered why he would waste so many balls. He said they were all "shag" balls. Shag balls are golf balls that have slices in them and they aren’t any good for normal play. He drove them as far as he could into the woods with no thought of retrieving them. He hurled them away. They were gone, out of sight, lost forever.
This is what it means to forgive. To literally, "hurl away" or "let go" of the shag balls in our lives. The problem is too many of our shag balls have elastic strings attached to them. We give them the old "heave ho" only to have them come back at a later time.
Forgiveness is not saying the offense never happened. It did. Forgiveness is not saying that everything’s okay, it isn’t. Forgiveness is not saying we no longer feel the pain of the offense. We do. Forgiveness is saying, I experienced the pain, but I am willing to let go and no longer blame the offender.
It’s not easy to forgive people when they make mistakes. To compensate we like to get even, or at the very least, refuse to deal with people who are not fair. When we withhold forgiveness, we live with the myth that we are in control. At some point it may come back to haunt us.
Peter was willing to forgive. However, Peter wanted to put a limit on forgiveness. In other words, his forgiveness was conditional. Jesus wanted Peter and the others to understand that “true” forgiveness opens our lives to the unlimited realm of God’s kingdom and has no limits. “How often should I forgive?” Peter asked. “Not seven times but seventy times seven,” Jesus replied. What Jesus meant by that is that we are not to keep track. In other words, forgiveness is to be unlimited.
In Jesus’ parable the servant had a huge debt but was forgiven by the king when he cried for mercy. “Have patience with me and I will pay back everything I owe,” he cried. The king then forgave his debt. But, that same servant was unwilling to forgive someone who owed him money. To him he showed no mercy and had him thrown in prison.
Unfortunately, the chain of forgiveness had been broken. Others cried foul and reported to the king what had taken place. When the king heard what had happened, he was angered and had the servant thrown in prison and had him tortured. Since the servant was unwilling to forgive, the king withdrew the forgiveness that he had given. Then there was social chaos. No one had been shown mercy.
When we are unwilling to forgive many lives are adversely affected. This is not what God expects of us. God expects God’s disciples to forgive unconditionally because a spirit of forgiveness creates peace and harmony throughout society, in families, in neighborhoods and even in churches.
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we those who trespass against us,” Jesus taught. On the one hand we ask God to forgive us, and on the other hand we must offer forgiveness to others.
One time a young man borrowed the family car without permission, knowing he could have it home and safely in the garage before his father found out. He hadn't reckoned on getting rear-ended at the second intersection he came to. Since there was no way to conceal the damage, he parked the car and closed the garage door, then spent an evening agonizing over how to deal with his father when he arrived home. When his dad walked in, the young man flashed a look of terror.
He told his father everything, complete with a profuse apology. His father walked with the son to the garage and looked long and hard and silently at the damage. Then he said, "Insurance will cover it. It wouldn't have covered the broken trust between you and me, however. Fortunately your apology took care of that." "Can you ever forgive me, Dad?" "I have already." "You have learned your lesson. Forget about it." A week later the son, still guilt-driven, came to his father and said, "Dad, in case they raise our insurance rates because of the accident, I'm willing to earn the money to pay the difference in the premiums." His father didn't even look up from his newspaper as he said, simply, "What accident?" "How often should I forgive?” Peter asked. “Seventy seven,” Jesus said.
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.