9-11-17 - Forgiveness Without End

In last week’s gospel passage, we explored what happens when one member of the community is wounded by another. Jesus laid out a process of confrontation leading to resolution, either reconciliation or separation. Peter must have been thinking ahead, for he realized it wasn’t enough to be able to address conflict… if what Jesus had been saying all along meant anything, reconciliation would have to include forgiveness. How far was that supposed to go?

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Here is this week's gospel passage.)

Sometimes it’s translated “seventy times seven.” I once wrote a short story called “The 489th Wrong,” about a religious woman who finally reaches that number of times she feels she’s forgiven her husband, and thinks she can stop (wrong!). But it’s not about the math. Seven is one of those infinite numbers, so Jesus is basically saying, “As many times as needed.” There is no end to the number of times Christ-followers are called to forgive.

The deeper the wound, the more forgiveness costs us. I see forgiveness as “giving for.” Someone has taken something from you; they owe it, and you pay yourself for them – in effect, you lose twice. Why do that? Because it cancels the debt, clears the field, resets the clock, frees you and the other person. That’s one reason.

The other, as we’ll see from the parable Jesus uses to illustrate his point, is that while we’re busy trying to decide whether or not to forgive someone, somebody else may be wrestling with forgiving us. And even if we’ve offended no one on earth, chances are we’ve done, said or thought something that makes us less than who God intended us to be, and therefore we need God’s forgiveness. When we think about how many times we ask God to forgive us, often for the same darn thing, we’re more inclined to cut each other some slack, as the great hymn “Forgive our sins” reminds us.

Is there someone whom you have been unable to forgive?
A resentment that sits there within you? Chances are that wound remains unhealed, and gets reopened periodically, either by that person or by similar feelings.
What feelings come up when you think about forgiving that person, releasing that debt?

If you don’t yet feel ready to forgive, might you be willing to let God do it? That’s one way to pray toward forgiveness, by praying, “Lord, I can’t forgive this person… but if you want to, I guess it’s okay.” Just praying that will shift the landscape a bit, generate some space, and the Holy Spirit will work with whatever space we give. If you're willing to go a little further, pray, "And if you want me to, please give me a desire to forgive..." That's another opening.

Our “forgiveness muscles” need to be exercised just like everything else in us. On this anniversary of one of the worst wounds inflicted upon our nation in recent times, we have yet another opportunity to flex those muscles. No one is beyond the reach of God's forgiveness, and as we grow in faith, we are able, by his power, to forgive even terrorists. 

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