I Forgive You

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen. Part of what frustrates me about the whole topic of forgiveness is that any conversation about it can quickly descend into a bunch of clichés.I know that clichés have truth in them but I also know they don’t always capture the depth or the implications of what you happen to be dealing with in the moment.

Mathew 18:15-35

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen

Part of what frustrates me about the whole topic of forgiveness is that any conversation about it can quickly descend into a bunch of clichés.

I know that clichés have truth in them but I also know they don’t always capture the depth or the implications of what you happen to be dealing with in the moment.

For example;

  • Forgive and forget – this is easier said than done and please don’t say this to me when I’m hurt and angry.
  • It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission – we think this is funny but it means I want to do what I want to do in the moment and I don’t care about the consequences.
  • All’s well that ends well – this may be true but it doesn’t take into account how much work it takes to end well.
  • Time heals all wounds – this is also true but often there is scar tissue when a wound heals and we never want to talk about the scar tissue that remains after the wound is healed or how long it may take to heal.

Forgiveness is hard work. It is serious work.

I forgive you is not something we say in a shallow or flippant manner.

When was the last time you spoke those words to someone who had hurt you?

Do you remember the context?

Can you still feel the pain of what was said or done to you by someone you loved, someone you cared about, someone with whom you were in some sort of relationship?

Or is the pain gone because you were able to speak those words?

Is the relationship restored because you were able to speak those words?

And what power was at work in your heart that enabled you to speak those words and restore the relationship and create something new?

Or perhaps you are sitting there thinking to yourself, I can’t remember. I know I have spoken those words but I can’t remember the context, I can’t remember what happened because I have let it go and it is gone and there is something new and different in its place.

I forgive you.

When was the last time you heard those words spoken to you by someone you had hurt?

Do you remember the context?

Can you still feel the shame and guilt that came about as a result of what you said or did that brought hurt and pain to someone you love, someone you cared about, and someone with whom you were in some sort of relationship?

Or is the pain gone because you were able to hear those words and take them to heart?

Is the relationship restored because you were able to hear those words spoken directly to you and you trusted those words to be true? You believed in the power of those words.

What power was at work in your heart that enabled you to hear those words, words that restored the relationship and created something new?

Forgiveness is hard work. It is serious work.

Today’s reading illustrates just how hard it is and how important it is in community and what happens when it works and what happens when it doesn’t work.

Peter asks Jesus the quantitative question. One we like to know the answer to because it gives us guidelines, it satisfies our thirst to know exactly what we are supposed to do.

“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

And if that seems unreasonable to you and you are having trouble digesting exactly what seventy times means Jesus immediately tells a Kingdom of Heaven story to illustrate what he means when he answers Peter’s quantitative question of how many times must I forgive.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

If you are wondering what 10,000 talents is worth, 1 talent is worth about 15 years of wages. The slave owed his master 150,000 years’ worth of wages.

The hyperbole is intentional and it is meant to capture our attention. Both the amount of debt as well as the slaves plea to his master to have patience with me and I will pay you everything.

And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

Jesus answers Peter’s question by reminding him how far God is willing to go in order to release someone from an unpayable debt for the sole purpose of opening up a new and unimagined future based on forgiveness.

I find it interesting that the Greek word to forgive is apheimi which literally means to let go or pardon. The lord of that slave let him go free.

One would think the release this slave must have felt would have been life changing, dramatic, powerful.

What is equally as shocking is the forgiven slave’s actions after he is released from his unpayable debt.

The hyperbole of the story continues.

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’

Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.

The unforgiving slave’s actions are just as shocking as the master’s action and the story is told this way so you and I do not miss the point.

Sometimes forgiveness doesn’t change the person on the receiving end of it. Sometimes the heart remains the same. There is no release, no change, the door to a new future remains tightly shut. And there are consequences. The community notices. The fellow slaves are appalled and tell the lord what has happened and when the he finds out the hammer falls.

Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

How many times Lord must I forgive?

The answer is as many times as I am forgiven.

This is the urgency of forgiveness that actually brings us to change.

A changed heart that brings about a changed relationship that in turn creates a new future where wholeness and life are created out of brokenness and pain.

To open up doors that might otherwise be closed.

To let go, to pardon and to be free.

I forgive you.

Thanks be to God. Amen

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