Genesis 19; Matthew 18; Nehemiah 8; Acts 18: Proverbs 18
Forgiveness. I have to confess that I have asked the question just like Peter. “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” -Matthew 18:21. We have these little sayings, things like, “Fool me once-shame on you; fool me twice-shame on me.” We live in a world where it is all about “me.” So naturally anything or anyone that continues to hurt me is viewed in a negative light. The underlying sentiment of Peter’s question is one of self-centeredness. We have even made forgiveness all about “me.” Take these quotes for instance:
"Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much." - Oscar Wilde
"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." - Louis B. Smedes
"When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free." - Katherine Ponder
“Remember, you don't forgive someone for his or her sake - you forgive them for your sake.” -uncredited
The underlying sentiment here is that forgiveness is what we do for ourselves and there is some truth to that. I just do not think that is at all what Jesus is about to say in this passage. “Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” How many times should I forgive the one who sins against me? Every time without fail.
And Jesus goes on to tell us why in a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven. He tells the story of a king who wanted to settle his accounts and about one who owed him a great deal. But this man did not have the ability to pay back his great debt and so fell before the king and begged for patience. The king felt such compassion for the man that he released him from the entire debt-he forgave it all. This man then went to another who owed him money and when this fellow slave fell to the ground before him and begged for patience, the man threw him in prison until he could repay the debt that was owed. When the report of this came to the king he brought the man back and said to him, “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?” The king then handed the man over to be tortured until he should repay his debt. Jesus ends with this stunning statement, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” -Matthew 18:33.
That is a scary verse! What I learn from Jesus parable is that while there is pleasure for God in forgiving me of my sins-the greatest reward is reaped by me. My sins have all been forgiven-all those of the past, which are far to many to for me to count; all those of the future, which I am just as sure will be beyond my ability to number-and all of those I will commit today. I am forgiven! How can I not extend the same mercy to all who sin against me-no matter what that sin might be. I have had to forgive some horrendous things-things which the world would say it is okay to never forgive-but that is not the way of Christ. How do I forgive sexual assault-through the power and love of Christ. After some 50 years of walking with the Lord I am just beginning to grasp how great His love for me-how amazing His grace. I know how it feels to be forgiven much and when I forgive others I am giving them that same gift. As for those who will continue to sin against me; those who will walk all over me again and again- in the vernacular of our day-I have no choice but to forgive again and again. In this way I am really laying down my life for another and isn’t that what we are called to do?
A couple more quotes I found on forgiveness:
"Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast." - Marlene Dietrich
"Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it." - Mark Twain
Grace, peace, and mercy,